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Students Get Tested, Educated About TB

By Rita H. Lin
staff reporter

During the weeks after the disclosure of a full-blown case of tuberculosis on campus, many students have taken skin tests to see if they were infected. Student reaction to the handling of this incident varied.

Even though the Medical Department originally estimated that about 150 people were exposed to TB, more than 200 people took a free skin test, said Physician David V. Diamond. Diamond, along with Nurse Coordinator Dolores Vidal are in charge of infection control for the Medical Department.

"So far about 12 people were tested positive," and they are currently undergoing treatment and further observation. The recommended treatment for TB is "taking isoniazid, an antibiotic specific for TB, once a day for six months," Diamond said.

Prior to testing, the Medical Department gave information sessions at Burton-Conner House, where the original TB patient lived, and Next House and Alpha Tau Omega where the patient frequently visited.

Liba Mikic, a housemaster at Next House, said that the information meeting was very helpful to students. "More than 50 students showed up, and they asked many inquisitive questions about TB," she said.

During the meeting, representatives explained the situation and let students know that they were welcome to receive free testing, Mikic said. The testing "was encouraged, not required," she said.

Although Mikic said the information session was successful, Ricci H. Rivera '00, a resident of Burton-Conner, disagreed. "It was good that the medical people came and talked to the residents about it down in the dining room, but it wasn't well publicized at all. Many of us didn't know about it" until after the meeting took place, Rivera said.

The Medical Department could have "advertised a little more," said Ernest D. Aguayo '97, president of Next House. "I don't think the whole dorm knew." However, "it was good how the MIT Medical Department wants to keep us informed," he said. Overall, "they handled it well. We had a really great turnout for the testing."

Manju V. Madhavan '99, who lives in Burton-Conner, said that "people just wanted information, and they were supplied with that information by the Med Center."

Students angry with delayed announcement

Many students felt annoyed, not by the discovery of TB but because the students were not informed about the situation earlier. The original TB case was discovered last fall.

However, not much could be done until recently because tests administered earlier would not have been useful since the infection takes a long time to appear, Diamond said.

"A lot of people knew [about the case of TB] by word of mouth; if they had told everyone the same thing early on they could have prevented rumors from flying around," Aguayo said.

Madhavan was not troubled by the delayed announcement of the problem. "I think that they realized that some students might have panicked so they decided to hold off until after the incubation period. You have to trust the doctors," he said. "I have no problem with that decision."

Students remain calm

Despite the number of people who were tested positive, students were not alarmed. "Not that many people talk about it, and everyone is pretty confident that the situation is under control," Mikic said. Students at Next House "don't feel threatened or anything. Everything is ok - no reason for panic, no need for panic."

"There is no need to be scared since there is no active TB on campus," Mikic said.

"No one [who has been] tested or x-rayed has the active disease," Diamond said. The positive result only "indicates infection," he said.

A large percentage "of the world's population become infected with TB sometime in their lives, but only 5 to 10 percent of people go on to become ill. Most of the infection cases do not develop into disease," Diamond said.

"Although more than a few tested positive for passive TB infection, that doesn't mean that they have been recently infected," Diamond said.

When a person is tested positive "we have to look at information such as the person's chest x-ray, history of vaccine, whether or not the person has received BCG, Bacillus Calmette-Guerin, a tuberculosis vaccine, places lived before, locations traveled, working experience," and anything else that might put the person in a situation that exposes the person to TB to determine the cause and the severity of the disease, Diamond said.

Most TB infections do not develop into full-blown diseases, and only when the patient is in the disease stage is he or she infectious.

Frank Dabek contributed to the reporting of this story.