Dallas County Officials Do Not Expect TB Outbreak

By Randy McIlwain
|  Thursday, Oct 13, 2011  |  Updated 10:53 AM CDT
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The <a title=Dallas County Health Department hopes education helps people deal with their concerns about tuberculosis." />

Randy McIlwain, NBC 5 News

The Dallas County Health Department hopes education helps people deal with their concerns about tuberculosis.

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Dallas County health officials say the rate of tuberculosis infections in the county has been decreasing.

An outbreak of tuberculosis has been reported at Ennis High School, and Denton school district officials said Denton High School has a suspected case of the infection.

Dallas County's health department treated 188 people for tuberculosis last year, and that was a decline from years past.

"It's very treatable illness from my viewpoint," said Dr. Garry Woo, the county medical director for tuberculosis control.

Tuberculosis is an airborne bacterial infection.

"If someone coughs or someone sneezes in the room or even talks in the room and you inhale the air, you can be infected with someone else's tuberculosis," Woo said.

But the infection is contracted much differently from viruses such as the flu or the common cold. It takes time -- between 40 to 80 hours over a two-week time span -- and proximity to someone infected an active cause of tuberculosis to contract the infection.

Tuberculosis is often most visible in lung X-rays and is very similar to pneumonia.

Woo said a healthy diet and immune system are critical to avoiding the infection if you are around someone who has it. But beyond that, tuberculosis is treatable, he said.

"I don't believe you should be frightened of the disease there's a high awareness of it in Dallas County," he said.

A tuberculosis infection is significantly different from exposure to tuberculosis.

A simple skin test can determine whether if someone has exposed to tuberculosis. A positive test result means tuberculosis is lying dormant.

Those who test positive for exposure to tuberculosis are not infectious. But getting rid of the bacteria requires nine months of antibiotics.

"You're waiting for the organism to awaken, become active so that the antibiotics can work," Woo said.

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