August 11, 2008 - 5:33PM
Jennifer L. Berghom
EDINBURG - Hidalgo County's health department is investigating a possible case of tuberculosis and wants to make sure those who have been in contact with the patient are checked out.
The department has been working on the case for the past month and has screened some people who have had contact with the patient. But health officials want to make sure everyone gets looked at.
"Our No. 1 concern is to encourage people to come in," said Eduardo Olivarez, chief administrative officer of the Hidalgo County Health Department.
Although the chances of those people contracting the disease are highly unlikely, the health department does not want to take any chances, Olivarez said.
Tuberculosis is caused by germs spread from person to person through the air. It usually affects the lungs but can reach other parts of the body including the brain, kidneys and spine. People with the disease can die if they are not treated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A Mission pediatrician noticed that the mother of one patient had lost weight and was not feeling well. The doctor referred the mother to the health department.
Symptoms of tuberculosis include weight loss, feeling of weakness or sickness, fever and night sweats. Other symptoms are coughing, chest pain, and coughing up blood, according to the CDC.
The health department immediately placed the mother and family members on medication and is awaiting lab results to determine whether she has the disease. Results usually take 6-8 weeks to return, Olivarez said.
Olivarez said he could not release the name of the pediatrician's office, nor the patient in question, citing federal privacy laws. But he said there are no traces of the disease at the doctor's office and that the doctor and staff have been cooperating with the health department.
The department has sent out about 300 letters to patients who were at the pediatrician's office around the same time as the woman asking them to come in for screening.
Olivarez said the odds of those people contracting tuberculosis from the woman are less than one percent, but it is the department's duty to check everyone.
"We have to conduct our study for the health and well being of our community," Olivarez said. "I don't want anybody to panic."
Hidalgo County has one of the highest case rates of tuberculosis in the state and among states along the U.S./Mexico border. In the past 12 months alone the county has treated about 85 cases, Olivarez said.
Immigration is one factor to the high number of cases, but he stresses that not all the cases are coming from Mexico. The department has been treating recent immigrants from the Ukraine, Vietnam and Africa, as well as longtime U.S. citizens.
Jennifer L. Berghom covers education and general assignments for The Monitor. She can be reached at (956) 683-4462 .