November 7, 2001

Grad Tests Positive For Tuberculosis

Print More

A Cornell student has tested positive for the tuberculosis (TB) disease, according to University officials.

Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations, confirmed that the student tested positive for the infection at Gannett: University Health Services. However, Sharon Dittman, associate director of community relations for Gannett, noted, “It’s unusual to see transmission through classroom exposure. … It generally requires prolonged exposure over time.”

According to Lauren Mangiola grad, who studies in the same department as the student, the infected male is a first-year graduate student in chemical engineering.

Mangiola said that the patient’s classmates learned of his condition when they received letters from the Tompkins County Health Department yesterday in class. The county health department is required by New York State law to handle testing in cases of TB, according to Dittman.

The letter — which was written by Barbara Keating, a registered nurse who works for the health department — stated that the recipient had been exposed to TB.

“This notice is to inform you that you have been exposed to tuberculosis,” the letter stated. “Consequently, it is recommended that you be evaluated and tested for tuberculosis infection.”

Keating, who said she wished to protect the patient’s confidentiality, declined to comment to The Sun.

The letter recommended that the recipients attend an information meeting and skin test clinic yesterday in Olin Hall.

At the meeting, Keating and other workers from the health department informed the students that they had been exposed to tuberculosis and described how the infection is transmitted, according to one chemical engineering student, who declined to give his name.

“They told us the basics of how TB is transmitted and provided pamphlets with more information,” he said. “They didn’t tell us the student’s name for patient privacy reasons.”

According to Keating’s letter, the infection “is spread through the air when a person with tuberculosis coughs tuberculosis bacteria into the air where others may inhale them. Tuberculosis is preventable and can be cured, but proper diagnosis and treatment are important.”

Dittman explained that someone can test positive for TB without showing symptoms or being contagious. “Most people who get infected don’t get sick,” she said.

Mangiola said that the infected student “had been coughing in class, and he hasn’t attended class in a while.”

“The student sought care for upper respiratory infection. When he tested positive for TB, it then became a public health issue,” Dittman said.

Students who received letters and attended the meeting said that the health department workers gave them skin tests and requested that they be reexamined tomorrow.

“A Mantoux tuberculin skin test can show whether you have tuberculosis infection. If your skin test is positive, it indicates that you have been infected with tuberculosis, and we may recommend a chest x-ray for further evaluation and may also prescribe preventative medicine,” Keating wrote in the letter to students who had been exposed. “People with tuberculosis infection that do not have any symptoms of illness cannot spread tuberculosis to others.”

Mangiola added that the health department workers answered the students’ questions about tuberculosis, such as what to do if they had received the vaccine and whether they could exercise after receiving the skin test.

“TB is rare at Cornell,” she said. “It’s almost always an isolated event.”

Archived article by Stephanie Hankin