Health Department Working With USAMRIID To Track Down Those Exposed To TB

They will be urged to gets tested and seek treatment.



Frederick, Md (KM) Efforts are underway by the US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick to locate about 115 people who may have been exposed to five lab monkeys who came down with a latent form of tuberculosis. USAMRIID is being assisted by the Frederick County Health Department. “In coordination with the Barquist Health Clinic on post, and us, we’re trying reach to anyone that’s been potentially exposed. They’ll be retested and tested to see if they have the infection. And if they are, they’ll be encouraged to seek treatment, preventive treatment for the latent TB infection,” says Dr. Randy Culpepper, Deputy Health Officer for Frederick County.

Last week, USAMRIID announced that five of its lab monkeys tested positive for a latent form of tuberculosis. In addition, the monkeys’ human caretaker also contracted the latent form of that disease, “which is where someone has been exposed to the bacteria sometime in their life, and has tested positive by a skin test or a blood test,” says Dr. Culpepper.

He says this latent form of TB is not dangerous to those who live or work near the patient. “So if someone has latent TB infection, they’re not contagious to other people. They do not have symptoms. They’ve simply know that they have been exposed sometime in their life,” says Dr. Culpepper.

Dr. Culpepper says in many cases, there’s a 5% to 10% chance a person with latent TB will develop an active form of the disease. Even though the patients have latent tuberculosis, they still need to get treatment, says Dr. Culpepper. “Most people, if they’re infected with tuberculosis bacteria, and they don’t clear the bacteria themselves, then a majority of people would become active within two years,” he says. “However, we’ve seen patients be exposed 60 or 70 years ago, and now all of a sudden the bacteria become activated.”

Tuberculosis is a bacteria that’s in the lungs and throat, and its spread through the air whenever a patient coughs, speaks or sings. People nearby breathe in this bacteria and they too become infected, according to the CDC website. But the agency says you cannot get TB from shaking another person’s hand, sharing food or drink, touching bed linens or toilet seats, sharing toothbrushes or kissing.

When a person breathes in the tuberculosis bacteria, it settles in the lungs or throat and can become infectious. It also spreads to other parts of the body, such as the kidney or spine. Those who contract TB are mostly likely to spread it to individuals they spend time with each day, such as family members, friends, co-workers and schoolmates.

The symptoms of active TB include “coughing for more than three weeks, coughing up blood, chest pains or pain with breathing and coughing, unexplained weight loss, night sweats, chills, fatigue, a prolonged fever and loss of appetite,” says Dr. Culpepper.

He says how and whether a person contracts  TB often has to do with their health status. “Whether they have any other diseases that make their immune system weaker, such as cancer, renal failure, diabetes, HIV. All those kinds of things can make a person likely develop active disease if they’re going to develop active disease faster,” Dr. Culpepper says.

Those 115 people who may have been exposed to the five monkeys, they will be encouraged to get tested, and seek treatment if the test is positive for TB. “The military and civilian government workers will most likely go to the Occupational Health Clinic at the {Richard Barquest Army Health Clinic} on post. All contractors would likely go to their own corporate health services. We’ve offered our clinics to help facilitate testing and treating in ones that need it,” says Dr. Culpepper.

He also says the 115 exposed to the lab monkeys may only be the beginning. “USAMRIID is going to continue looking back to the last couple of years to see, ever since the monkeys came into the facility in 2016, they’re going to try to identify all workers who worked in those monkey research rooms back to that time,” says Dr. Culpepper. “We don’t know what that number is yet.”

USAMRIID says the five infected monkeys have been euthanized. The human caretaker is receiving treatment.


By Kevin McManus