A Possible Tuberculosis Case in Humboldt County Raises Concerns Among Health Officials
After a recent autopsy on a middle aged man from the Southern Humboldt area found “suspicious tissue,” two nurses from the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) are reaching out to people who might have had prolonged close contact with him, confirmed DHHS Public Health Nurse Eric Gordon. They are concerned that the man MAY have had tuberculosis, a contagious disease that often attacks the lungs and can be fatal.
“When this individual passed away…of a cause of death unrelated, an autopsy was done,” said Gordon. When the Coroner “was examining the lungs, he had some concerns so a suspicious tissue sample was sent to the CDC [Center for Disease Control and Prevention,]” Gordon explained. The CDC will run a molecular test to determine whether or not the man had tuberculosis.
“My experience has been it takes a couple of weeks [to get back results,] Gordon explained. Meanwhile, he said, “We have started a contact investigation out of an abundance of caution.”
Gordon says it is unlikely that anyone would get the disease from simply being coughed on. But, he said, “We do have concerns about people who have an intimate association.” Public Health nurses are attempting to get in touch with anyone who had close contact with the man for a prolonged period of time. Gordon said this could be an intimate partner or someone who was in a confined space like a car for several hours.
Because of privacy concerns and because it is not known whether the man actually did have tuberculosis, the name of the deceased is not being released. However, anyone who thinks they may have been exposed can contact the Department of Health and Human Services at (707) 268-2169 to get more information.
If the man’s tissue turns out to be infectious, Gordon said, the nurses will have gathered information on the “folks who had at least obvious close contact with him.”
“Tuberculosis disease was once the leading cause of death in the United States,” said Susan Buckley, Director of DHHS in this press release. “Today, however, people with active TB disease can almost always be treated and cured if they seek medical help. Even better, people with latent TB infection can take medicine so they will not develop active TB disease.”
Gordon said that Humboldt County averages only one to two cases a year. “In the United States, we have a very successful eradication program,” he said. But tuberculosis or TB is still a problem in third world countries.
Though treatment is available for those who are infected, Gordon explained, treating the disease takes at least four different antibiotics and up to six months of treatment. This, he said, can be a financial hardship and time consuming.