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Tuberculosis Case Alarms Health Officials

The state Department of Health is investigating a tuberculosis case at United World College in the northeastern New Mexico town of Montezuma and working// to prevent the spread of the disease.

Officials at the college near Las Vegas notified the Department of Health that a student was hospitalized with an infectious form of the disease.

Tuberculosis is a form of bacterial infection that can affect the lungs and other parts of the body. It is caused by germs that are spread from person to person through the air. Other than the lungs, the disease can affect the brain, kidneys or spine.

When a person with the active disease of the lung or throat coughs or sneezes, tiny particles containing tuberculosis can be expelled into the air. If another person inhales air containing these particles, the bacteria might enter the lungs and cause infection.

Steve Jenison, medical director for the department's Infectious Disease Bureau, said the investigation involves "a large number of contacts due to the close environment of the college," a news release said.

Officials at the college have notified parents and students about the case and prevention efforts. Treatment of tuberculosis usually includes a six- to nine-month regimen of medication.

Public health and Epidemiology staff from the state Health Department, along with a tuberculosis expert from the University of New Mexico, have met with the infected student and others who might have been exposed, the news release said.

The department will provide a skin test and treatment if needed.

Jenison said a positive skin test doesn't indicate infectious tuberculosis, only that a person has been exposed.

"When we are notified of a case, we work quickly with communities to identify individuals who are potentially exposed and make sure they get the proper treatment," said Ron Voorhees, chief medical officer for the Department of Health.

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