Health & Science

University of Houston student has tuberculosis, university working with Houston Health Department on contact tracing

A student is being treated for active tuberculosis.

UH Cullen Building
Ed Castillo/Houston Public Media
Ezekiel W. Cullen Building at the University of Houston. Taken Jan. 27, 2020.

Houston Health Department officials have informed the University of Houston that a student is being treated for active tuberculosis.

The university sent out an email to the community on Tuesday morning stating that the school is working closely with the Houston Health Department to identify any student, faculty, or staff member who should be tested for tuberculosis infection.

Officials will be on campus on Tuesday, November 28, from 11 a.m. to noon and Wednesday, November 29, from noon to 1 p.m. in the Student Center South Space City Room to give a presentation for students, faculty, and staff about TB and to answer any questions.

Tuberculosis is a disease that spreads through the air by a person with active tuberculosis, Interim Executive Director of the University of Houston Student Health Center, Jon Rusciano said in the email.

"The bacteria that cause TB are generally only transmitted to people who have prolonged close contact with someone with infectious tuberculosis. Casual contact is generally not sufficient for transmission of TB bacteria. At this time, no one else on this campus has developed symptoms of TB," Rusciano said.

Rusciano said the Houston Health Department determines who needs testing based on the type of exposure a student or employee has had to the sick individual.

"If you are identified as someone who needs to be tested, a separate letter will be sent to you with the date, time, and location for testing," he said.

Doctor Jill Weatherhead is an infectious disease physician at the Baylor College of Medicine.

"Really protocol-driven based on how close contact you were with the person," she said. "So the closer the contact you are, the higher the likelihood of being exposed and becoming infected."

Weatherhead said people with diabetes or impaired immune responses are more likely to develop active tuberculosis. She said while it's a widespread disease, it can be common in areas like Houston.

"Particularly more common in persons who were born in other regions, and can lead to disease if there are underlying risk factors to the immune system," she said.

In 2022, there were more than 8,000 cases of tuberculosis reported in the United States, according to Weatherhead. She said reported cases decreased during the pandemic because resources were focused more on the viral infection, COVID-19, and less on other areas such as the bacterial infection, tuberculosis.

"The disease process [in tuberculosis] is much different in that COVID is an acute infection that will make people sick within days of being exposed. ... [Tuberculosis] is a more indolent infection, where the disease will take weeks to months to develop if you develop a disease at all," she said.

More information about this case can be found on the UH website.

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