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160 poultry plant employees tested for TB
Former Wayne Farms worker diagnosed with active form of pulmonary disease

By Eric Fleischauer
eric@decaturdaily.com · 340-2435

About 160 Wayne Farms employees were tested for tuberculosis Wednesday after a former employee was diagnosed with active tuberculosis, a state health department official said.

The former employee, who was hospitalized and is being treated, left the Wayne Farms poultry plant several weeks ago.

Health officials initiated skin tests on the employees at the plant. They will return to the plant Friday to evaluate the employees' reactions to the testing solution, said Scott Jones, interim director of the division of tuberculosis control with the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Jones would not name the former employee who tested positive, but he said there was "good laboratory evidence to support the diagnosis of tuberculosis." He would not say where the former employee was hospitalized or where he resides.

Any positive results from Wednesday’s skin tests would only mean an employee has at some time been exposed to tuberculosis, Jones said. Any Wayne Farms employees who test positive will receive lung X-rays on Oct. 16.

A person who tests positive for tuberculosis but has no symptoms is not contagious, Jones said. To keep latent TB from becoming active, health officials usually administer a six-month course of isoniazid in pill form.

Jones said the former employee was born outside the United States.

“Greater than 50 percent of cases reported nationally are among people born outside the U.S.,” Jones said. In 2006, 27 percent of the cases reported in Alabama were among people born outside the United States.

From 2001 through 2005, the top five countries of origin of foreign-born persons with TB were Mexico, the Philippines, Vietnam, India, and China, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wayne Farms spokesman Frank Singleton said the county administered skin tests to 80 employees who had worked in close proximity to the TB-infected former employee.

The total number tested was higher than 80 because the county opened testing to all employees who requested it, he said.

Tuberculosis is an airborne disease. If properly treated, tuberculosis is curable in nearly all cases, according to the CDC. If untreated, the disease is fatal in more than half the cases within five years.

To test for the disease, health care workers inject a small amount of testing fluid under the skin on the forearm. After 2 or 3 days, the injection site is examined for swelling. A positive reaction usually means that the person has been infected by someone with active TB disease.

According to the state health department, Morgan County had six confirmed new cases of tuberculosis in each of the last two years.

In September 2006, officials administered skin tests to 74 Wayne Farms employees after they had contact with an employee suspected of having tuberculosis. Of those tested, 26 tested positive, meaning they had been exposed to TB.

Tuberculosis symptoms

Symptoms of active tuberculosis may include some or all of the following:

  • Feelings of sickness or weakness.

  • Weight loss.

  • Fever.

  • Night sweats.

  • Coughing.

  • Chest pain.

  • Coughing up of blood.

    TB is spread through airborne bacteria, not through contact.

    Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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