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Gaston DHHS Investigating Suspected TB Case

The Gaston County Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) is investigating a suspected case of Tuberculosis (TB) in a Gaston County resident. DHHS is currently reaching out to this individual’s family members and others that they came in close contact with, including coworkers at a local Olive Garden, to ensure they receive appropriate testing and treatment. There is low risk of exposure to the public as TB is only spread through direct contact for an extended period of time and not spread through consuming prepared food or drink.

It is important for the community to understand that a relatively small number of persons are likely to have been exposed, and no one is at immediate risk of any health problems.  TB is a disease that generally develops over weeks to months, and it is completely curable with medications.  If there are any questions or concerns regarding this exposure, please contact Khrystie Jackson at 704-853-5006.

Gaston DHHS is working closely with state TB Control experts as well as Olive Garden management and would like to reiterate there is no public health threat at this time.

 Dr. Harish Marisiddaiah, a local Infectious Disease Specialist, shared, “We are fortunate that tuberculosis is hard to catch even when exposed to somebody with active tuberculosis. Serious high-risk exposure is considered for people with close prolonged closed in contact with a person with active tuberculosis, like family members who live in the same house or coworkers. Casual contact at a store or in a restaurant is not considered a high risk exposure.” Dr. Marisiddaiah has been servicing Gaston County for over 20 years and is board-certified in infectious disease.

 Tuberculosis (TB) Information

  • TB is a disease that often affects the lungs.  People who are sick with TB often have one or more of the following symptoms:
    • Cough lasting over 3 weeks
    • Coughing up blood
    • Fever
    • Profuse sweating at night, often soaking the bed sheets
    • Unintentional weight loss
    • Poor appetite
    • Chest pain or discomfort
    • Difficulty breathing
  • However, all of these symptoms can be caused by many other diseases besides TB
  • TB is transmitted when a sick person coughs, sneezes, or speaks.  The germs are expelled into the air, and if a nearby person breathes them in, that person can become infected with TB.
  • TB is killed relatively quickly by sunlight, so usually transmission occurs indoors
  • TB infection is diagnosed by either a TB skin test or a blood test. 
    • For the TB skin test, a small amount of liquid is injected under the skin of the arm.  A healthcare worker examines this arm 2-3 days later.  If the area where the liquid was injected swells up, this indicates that the person has been exposed to the TB germ at some point during her/his lifetime. 
    • The blood test requires a single blood draw, and tests whether the person’s immune system recognizes the TB germ.
    • A positive TB skin test or blood test does not mean that a person is sick with TB.
  • It can take up to 2 months after exposure for the TB skin test or blood test to turn positive.  Standard procedure is to test exposed persons at the time that the exposure is discovered, and then to repeat the same test 2 months or more later if it is negative the first time.
  • Once a person has been exposed to TB and has a positive TB skin test or blood test, that person has TB infection and may become ill with TB disease in the future.  The risk of becoming ill depends on that person’s immune system; persons with weak immune systems are more likely to become ill with TB disease than persons with normal immune systems.
  • For a person with a positive TB skin test or blood test (TB infection) and a normal immune system, there is about a 5% risk of becoming sick with TB disease during the first 2 years after exposure.  There is an additional 5% risk to become sick with TB disease at some point later in life, more than 2 years after the initial exposure.  A person can become sick with TB disease 20 or more years after an exposure occurs.
  • One can reduce the risk to become sick with TB disease in the future by taking medicine.  The standard course of medicine is one pill every day for 9 months, and this reduces the risk to get sick in the future by about 80%.
  • People who are sick with TB disease can be cured with medicines almost 100% of the time.