You have been notified that there is a person with TB of the lungs in your educational institution. You may be worried about your health and wonder if you are infected and fear that you may get TB.
First of all, there is no reason to panic, as TB is not easily transmitted. Only less than a third of those exposed become infected with TB bacteria. The significance of the exposure depends on the nature of the disease, the duration of the exposure and the circumstances. Click here to read more about contact tracing.
In mass exposure situations like this, the risk of transmission is usually quite low, much lower than for people living in the same household.
Second, only one in ten infected adults (with normal immunity) will become ill with TB disease. The risk of TB infection progressing to active TB disease is highest in the first few years after the infection, but it can take decades to get sick. Among students, teenagers and young adults are at higher risk of developing the disease than older individuals. Therefore, students under the age of 35 are tested for TB infection with a blood test (IGRA). Those who are infected are offered access to 3-9 months of treatment to prevent LTBI.
Third, the local infectious disease authorities, together with the institution’s officials, will investigate the exposure situation and the groups of students exposed to TB. Students and staff identified as exposed will be informed of the incident and given instructions either at an info session or in another manner deemed appropriate by the persons in charge. Please wait for the information or info session and follow the instructions.
Fourth, mass exposure incidents easily cross the news threshold and the communicable disease authorities often have to make a public announcement. Do not incite panic and speculate about the identity or illness of a TB patient in public or on social media. It is nobody’s fault that they have TB nor that there has been TB in an educational setting.
Fifth, support the patient during their hospitalization and prolonged treatment. The patient is often panicked, scared, confused, guilty and worried about the possibility of infection and illness among close friends and fellow students. Being ill is lonely and frightening. Offer your support and encouragement by phone, letter, email or by visiting the person when they are well enough.
Sixth, you can strengthen your immune system through your lifestyle. Look after yourself. Eat well, exercise and get enough sleep. Stop smoking and drink alcohol in moderation. Avoid stress. Take a vitamin D supplement: light-skinned people at least during the dark season in October and April, dark-skinned people during all seasons.
Seventh, remember your exposure in the future, but don’t stress about it. Contact your doctor to check for the possibility of TB if you develop any of the following symptoms:
- prolonged cough, sputum, phlegm for more than three weeks
- feverishness or fever for which no explanation can be found
- loss of appetite and unintended weight loss
- exceptional fatigue
- abnormal night sweats