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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
Tuberculosis Concerns Are Exaggerated, Night Shelter and
Peyton D. Woodson
October 9, 2003
Fort Worth Star-Telegram (10.09.03) - Thursday, October 09,

Presbyterian Night Shelter volunteers, tour groups and at least one vendor have become hesitant to visit the facility after learning the results of yearlong mandatory tuberculosis testing for shelter residents. Shelter employees and county health officials said the fears are exaggerated and that positive TB cases remain constant in the community.

"You don't get TB from casual contact," said Gerry Burgess, division manager for TB elimination at the Tarrant County health department. "The risk isn't any greater now than it has been for the past 15 years. For a healthy individual to acquire TB, you have to have an eight-to-10-hour-a-day exposure." County officials began mandatory TB screening for shelter residents in 2002. In the past year, 17 active cases were identified among residents, in addition to the eight cases on record before the testing started.

Burgess said healthy visitors should not be concerned about contracting the disease. Transients are at greater risk because of their poor health and compromised immune systems. In Tarrant County, she said, TB cases have remained stable since 1996, at about 100 per year.

Shelter Director John Suggs said shelter employees are vaccinated regularly for TB. Suggs has worked at the shelter for 12 years and never contracted the disease.

Suggs worries about losing volunteers and the support of tour groups. "Volunteers are really important," he said. "Tour groups like to come out and see where they're spending their dollars. It's an important part of how we do fundraising and getting people involved in helping the homeless."