Should my girlfriend be worried about TB?
March 12, 2007 7:29 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend is currently in college, and one of her professors recently mentioned that a student on the campus has been diagnosed with tuberculosis...

This professor mentioned it kind of in passing, and said that he'd been hanging out with this person recently, just prior to the diagnosis. He mentioned that he had drank after the person, but wasn't too worried about contracting it. Apparently the students in the same classes as this person have been notified, but otherwise it's being kept pretty quiet.

Anyway, this conversation took place during the professor's office hours, after she had been in a small room with the guy for 30-45 minutes. She's pretty worried, and doesn't know if she should get tested, or is just being paranoid. Most of our Googling into the subject has more or less stated that those in continued, close contact with an infected individual and those with compromised immune systems are the most at risk, which wouldn't include her, but being far from experts on these things, we're still kind of worried.

So back to the question at hand - should she be worried, and should she get tested?
posted by RobotMonkey to Health & Fitness (20 answers total)
Best answer: No, she shouldn't be worried. No, she doesn't need to get tested. In the extremely unlikely event that the professor did contract TB, he wouldn't be contagious for weeks. Tuberculosis is a very slow-progressing disease.
posted by emd3737 at 7:37 PM on March 12, 2007

Best answer: This happened at my school. One of the school's coffee shop baristas had TB. They recommended everyone that had gone to the cafe get tested. There were 8 incidents reported. She should get tested if she's worried.
posted by octomato at 7:40 PM on March 12, 2007

No, she's overly concerned. I worked in a TB clinic for two years, with nurses that worked there even longer. Every year, all hospital employees have to get a skin test. Every year, everyone's negative (except the foreign-born nurses, who've often been exposed as kids.)
posted by cobaltnine at 7:43 PM on March 12, 2007

I say have her take the test, if for no other reason than to set her mind at ease.
posted by juliplease at 7:44 PM on March 12, 2007

I was on a plane with someone with TB. No worries.
posted by The Michael The at 7:45 PM on March 12, 2007

Best answer: They had a TB scare at usafa the first year my son was there-another cadet I know personally was the roommate of the guy with TB. He might have tested positive but he didn't get it.

Doesn't hurt to get the skin test, but she should be ok.
posted by konolia at 7:48 PM on March 12, 2007

Best answer: Aside from contagion issues, TB is not that big a deal - most forms are easily treatable with antibiotics (there are some drug resistant strains, but most deaths are due to preexisting immunocompromise or lack of access to routine health care). To the point that my doc surmised I might have TB last year, but took a "well, we could test, but let's wait and see - it's probably something else" approach (and I tend to get respiratory illnesses pretty badly).
posted by spaceman_spiff at 7:57 PM on March 12, 2007

Er, by "aside from contagion issues", I meant that "in addition to the low chance of infection", as in emd3737.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 7:58 PM on March 12, 2007

Best answer: Being diagnosed with tuberculosis via a positive PPD test is not at all the same thing as having active, transmissible TB.

The most commonly used method to check for tuberculosis is the PPD skin test. If you have a positive PPD, it means you have been exposed to a person who has tuberculosis and you are now infected with the bacteria that causes the disease.

After you have a positive PPD skin test, you must have a chest x-ray and a physical exam to find out whether you have active disease or are contagious (able to spread the disease).

Most people with a positive skin test aren't contagious.
Even people who live in close quarters with someone who has active TB aren't guaranteed to develop it themselves. Your girlfriend has nothing to worry about.
posted by jesourie at 7:58 PM on March 12, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the quick answers, everyone. I was pretty sure that it wouldn't be much of an issue, but not sure enough to rest easy, you know? Anyway, I'll pass the word along, and hopefully ease her mind somewhat. She hasn't made up her mind whether she wants to be tested, but even if she does, I think knowing the results will almost certainly turn out okay will make the whole process a lot less stressful for her, and for me. Thanks again!
posted by RobotMonkey at 8:02 PM on March 12, 2007

see all these no don't worry, but from a heath-care worker's stand point (as we care about it) and if you want to be sure; just stop by health department--it only takes 2 seconds for a quick under-the-skin injection and a 2 second reading of any possible reaction 2 days later; it'll be worth the time to make sure.
posted by uncballzer at 8:38 PM on March 12, 2007

Well, anecdotes ain't evidence, but here's one anyway. I had TB. I caught it back in Junior High, near Washington DC. I had been coughing for longer than a usual cold would last, and my parents finally got worried. We went to the hospital, they did the usual skin-poke test and chest x-ray, and sure enough, I'd had it for months. By the time it was diagnosed, I had fairly extensive scarring in my lungs, reduced lung capacity, and an extreme sensitivity to lung problems. Smoke, dust, vigorous exercise, strong perfume, etc. all send me into violent, bloody coughing fits. It's no fun- and the test is so easy that she shouldn't pass it up. Why even consider skipping it? I don't know how long it'll be before she can get tested, but I definitely suggest she does it.
posted by wzcx at 9:10 PM on March 12, 2007

I recommend the CDC's TB factsheets, especially the general info.
posted by docgonzo at 9:54 PM on March 12, 2007

As someone who's been diagnosed with and treated for TB: I didn't even know I had it, didn't feel sick at all, just tested positive on the tine test, then in a follow-up blood test. I took pills for a few months to make sure I didn't have it any more, and that was it. I can breathe fine, don't have allergies, don't have any problems.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:01 AM on March 13, 2007

I shouldn't think that most Americans are run-down enough to get TB easily. Being in poor health and undernourished promotes contracting TB, which is why it was the scourge of urban slums in the nineteenth century.
posted by bad grammar at 12:57 AM on March 13, 2007

What uncballzer said. The PPD test is cheap, quick, painless, and a really good way to find out if you've ever been exposed.

But also, what cobaltnine said. TB isn't easy to catch. Example: I, and several hundred of my peers, spent two years in TB-riddled Ukraine, walking around in the cold, eating poorly (our own cooking, cheap cafés, and what we could get from kiosks on the run), riding packed-full buses, shaking hands with hundreds of people, and starting conversations with pretty much anyone who would let us. Or with those who insisted. Businessmen, homeless people, doctors, chronically malnourished alcoholics, schoolteachers, injecting opiate users, high school kids, everyone. We visited people's houses, we visited hospitals, we rode trains from city to city.

In short, if anyone around us had TB, we had an excellent chance of encountering them, and that while our own immunity was probably not at 100%. So we all got tested. No problems. I know exactly one guy whose PPD was positive, and his X-ray was negative. Your googling is correct: It takes continued, close contact and/or notably compromised immunity.
posted by eritain at 2:27 AM on March 13, 2007

Since the medical view has mostly been cleared up here, take an economic view on it. If the worry about it is going to cost her more than the cost of the test and the time in doing it, then take the test. If not, then don't.
posted by wackybrit at 6:12 AM on March 13, 2007

I was exposed to active TB patients 100+ times as a medical student and I've been exposed 25+ times to lung biopsy specimens of active TB nodules as a pathologist. I've yet to convert to a positive PPD. It's not too worrisome to a young healthy adult.

That being said, everyone should get yearly PPD tests. There's really no reason not to. She should be able to get tested for free at a Student Clinic at the University.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 7:29 AM on March 13, 2007

If she's in college, she can probably get tested for free at the student health center -- so there's no reason not to. My brother got TB from one of his college roommates, and it wasn't really a big deal; he was on antibiotics for a long time, but it didn't affect him any.
posted by sonofslim at 9:27 AM on March 13, 2007

Go get a test.

We have to do them here in our county yearly. We have to have 2 tests done within 3 weeks of each other, too. (This is for the county EMS agency)

She gets a poke in the arm, and 48 hours later a nurse looks at it.

I believe Planned Parenthood will also do the tests for free/a reduced fee. Might as well go get a blood test done anyway. It's a good thing to know.
posted by drstein at 10:48 AM on March 13, 2007

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