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TB fears get the better of our reason

Perhaps the saddest parts of the ongoing story of Ennis’s struggles with tuberculosis are the misinformation and fear-mongering that are spreading outside of the realm of informed public discourse.

To be sure, tuberculosis is a public health threat. There is no question — not from John Q. Public, not from the state of Texas nor from the Ennis Independent School District — over whether precautions, controls and treatment are necessary in order to contain the spread of the disease once it was discovered in a local schoolteacher this year.

It can be and is deadly if not handled properly. However, people are whipping themselves into a frenzy over the possibility that TB will enter their lives. Newsflash: This particular incident is, in all probability, not the first nor the last time any one of us will come in contact with the disease. Some have been exposed multiple times in their lives without ever developing any discernable illness.

TB, while a fairly regulated disease in the United States, is not all that uncommon. We’re also not talking about the Motaba virus here. TB is slow-moving, slow-acting and treatable, if approached before it develops too far into its life cycle, which, again, is long.

TB is not a short-term killer, by all available medical fact being disseminated in public realms over recent years. It most often takes a long, untreated and unaddressed course of TB for the disease to be fatal.

Now, acceding to the concerns of the reasonable public, it is absolutely correct to be wary of the disease. Whether you wait for the state health department to determine the sphere of possible infections could include you or whether you take the onus upon yourself to go to a doctor for testing, being mindful of possible exposures is reasonable.

We’re not particularly thrilled to see other regional school districts making public outcries for “TB safety” steps in athletic competitions with students from our area. We understand their motivation, but the likelihood of exposure in an athletic competition is comparatively slim. What it is doing, in a larger sense, is creating an atmosphere where young students in Ennis can be marginalized and shunned for a problem that is by no means their fault. It can quickly become a kind of district-sanctioned discrimination. We’ve seen it already with teams withdrawing from the weekend’s Lions Den Invitational cross-country competition, and we’re likely to see more as people let their fear — and ignorance — get the best of them.

It’s certainly a disappointing state of affairs that the city and its school district have to deal with the problem in the first place, and the secondary issues that have cropped up around it are no less distressing. We feel like more needs to be done to help people understand the real issues surrounding the disease, its symptoms, transmissibility and impacts. People are, left unchecked, often too willing to let uneducated or outlandish fear get the best of them.

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Posted by on Sep 29 2011. Filed under Editorials. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

6 Comments for “TB fears get the better of our reason”

  1. Bill Robinson

    One thing to clear up the question of the teacher is: did the teacher get his TB exposure from a student? And did a student spread the diease to begin with? It seems a more likely consequence…It’s time to stop the media’s story of the school and the teacher being at fault, and begin to work on all those who tested positive for treatment.

  2. james johnson

    are a teacher???

  3. Randy Tesmer

    I am a pharmacist in navarro county. I disagree about not being concerned
    abouth TB as mentioned in the above article. I believe the handling of the
    incident was slow and irresponsible. As mentioned in the above article TB
    is treatable but the drugs are harsh on the system when metabolized. The key
    ALWAYS is prevention. I believe certain contact sports, the transferring of
    saliva, etc, ie football, should be cancelled until testing is complete. When the
    article says the exposure is comparativlely slim that is not good enough for me
    and my child who is a junior in high school, slim carries a percentage and the
    concentration should be on the health of all and not on the concern of events being cancelled.

    • Diana Coile

      I too am a pharmacist, but I work and live in Ennis. I had the opportunity to attend the town hall meeting last Wednesday that was put on by the Texas Department of Health. It was very well presented and answered many questions. What people still do not seem to understand is that only someone with active TB disease is contagious. The kids that are testing positive for the TB skin test are immediately given a chest x-ray to rule out active disease. If the x-ray is negative the person is treated only as a precaution. They are not suffering from active disease and cannot infect anyone else. If they do have both a positive skin test and a positive x-ray, they are immediately removed from school and treated with a four drug treatment. There have only been approximately 10 cases that have had a positive chest x-ray in the entire school. Those were in close contact with the teacher and were identified in the first round of testing. So the numbers being reported by the media of 128 are only the positive skin tests. The chance of another district’s athletic team contracting TB from Ennis’ players that are not contagious is ridiculous. As of yesterday, the state is testing the entire high school population so all players will be tested shortly. The Dallas branch of the health department is coming on Monday to help accommodate the large numbers. By next Friday’s game everyone will have been tested.

      • Randy Tesmer

        Thanks for the information. I was responding to the article written by
        the paper and not to the number of ACTIVE TB cases. I believe once
        positive always positive on a TB test. The writer of the article seemed to
        discount the disease of tuberculosis. If the players of the football team
        had been tested and given clearance that was ok but you seem to indicate
        not all players have been tested. Again TB is treatable but the regimen
        is harsh on the system when metabolized ie liver. I believe if 128 cases
        were diagnosed only by skin tests there should have been quicker testing
        of all the high school only because some of those may have been prevented. Why haven’t all the high school students been tested by now,
        its a simple test?

  4. Eve Braun

    As a Dr. from Baylor University said, it normally takes 35-40 years for someone with latent TB to develop active TB. And only 10% will even develop active TB at all. So of the 180 students with latent TB, only 18 will develop TB, and probably not until they are about 50-60 years old. However, according to the Center for Disease Control, active TB is fatal 50% of the time, so about 40 years or so from now, 9 students from EHS should expect to die of TB.

    Yet, the writer of this article thinks the saddest part if the TB outbreak is the misinformation. I disagree.

    The other route is to be treated with drugs. We’ve been told again and again that TB is easily treatable with antibiotics. However the drugs that are given to treat TB, can cause blood in the urine, headaches, fever and nausea. The expected side effects are hair loss and PERMANENT liver damage. I think it’s pretty sad for a 16 year old kid to feel terribly sick, experience hair loss and know they will probably have permanent liver damage from the drugs they have to take.

    So after being told that TB is not very contagious, we see that 20% of the students tested have positive results for latent TB. Without treatment, 9 of those kids can expect to die from TB years at some point in their life.

    We’ve been told that TB is easily treatable, but a person with latent TB can expect to feel very sick, have hair loss, and have their liver permanently damaged from the drugs to treat TB.

    The 10 kids with active TB have it even worse. And only 1/2 of the school has been tested so far.

    There’s a toddler from Ennis in ICU at Children’s Medical Center struggling to breathe. She caught it from her older brothers who caught it at EHS.

    But the saddest part is the misinformation and fear-mongering? Seriously?

    I get my information from the U.S. National Institute for Health and the Center for Disease Control. The most alarming misinformation I’ve heard is the downplaying of this TB outbreak.

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