Approximately 300 students were exposed to a VCU student with tuberculosis, according to an alert sent out last Tuesday. Potential contacts with the infected student were notified via email.
In response, VCU Student Health is offering tuberculosis screenings to each contacted student free of charge.
“I heard about it through word-of-mouth. I couldn’t believe something like this could happen here. I thought we were all vaccinated as freshman, it makes me think there was a slip in the system or something. Even though I’m not in those specific classes doesn’t mean I can’t be exposed to it,” said Courtney Anderson, a senior.
VCU Student Health required all incoming students to turn in immunization forms before entering VCU. Incoming students were asked to be screened for tuberculosis, not vaccinated.
“Tuberculosis is caused by a type of bacteria that is passed from person to person through the air when the ill person coughs, sneezes or sings. TB does not spread by casual contact such as kissing, sharing drinking glasses, dishes or other objects. Some people exposed to the germ may develop infection without any symptoms (latent TB),” the alert said.
Dr. Donald Stern, of Richmond City Health District along with Margaret Roberson, M.D., Director of VCU Student Health Services spoke to students in the four at-risk classrooms. Stern advised students to be cautious, but not panic.
“The risk of infection is lower than that of the flu,” said Stern. “It cannot be spread by casual contact like sharing a glass or kissing,” he said.
Symptoms for the disease are heavy coughing, weight loss, fevers, loss of appetite, fatigue and night sweats.
He also said in this particular case, risk factors were in favor of the students. Richmond City Health District and VCU Student Health looked at the classrooms’ size, ventilation, and the amount of time the infected student was in the room, and determined the risk of infection was insignificant.
“The person was in two of my classes and I’m not worried,” said Ryan Henry, a potentially exposed student. “Nobody coughed on me or sneezed on me as far as I remember, so I think I’m safe.”
The screenings, though voluntary, are encouraged, especially for any students with as HIV infection, end-stage kidney disease or other immuno-compromising conditions, as they are at higher risk for developing the disease. “These students are the ones we are most worried about,” Roberson said.
The test, consisting of either a skin test or standard blood work takes only a few minutes and results come back within two to three days. Due to the national shortage of PPD’s (skin tests), they are reserved for potentially exposed students.
A follow-up screening will also be offered in November to screen for latent tuberculosis, Roberson said. Potentially exposed students and staff will be alerted via email to get screened.
Students may also go to a preferred doctor off campus, as long as the results are forwarded to Student Health Services. In the event of a positive diagnosis, treatment will be offered. The cure for tuberculosis virus is a steady regimen of a medication known as Isoniazid, or INH, for nine months.