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
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."