Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock) (08.22.12)
Arkansas legislators recently approved new administrative rules that would end mandatory TB testing for teachers, emergency personnel, day-care workers, and foster parents. The state Department of Health’s rule change would go into effect January 1, 2013.
Last year, Arkansas had 85 active TB cases, said Department of Health spokesperson Ann Russell. Also in 2011, 43 of the state’s 75 counties had no cases and 15 counties had only one. Most reports were from Pulaski and Washington counties, with the majority involving foreign-born or elderly people, Russell said. Arkansas has one of the lowest TB rates in the nation, Dr. Naveen Patil, the state TB Control Officer, told lawmakers.
With the change in rules, new teachers at public schools and kindergartens, emergency personnel, school employees, and those at day-care centers, outpatient drug or alcohol facilities or migrant worker centers, would not undergo mandatory testing. “Most of these groups haven’t had a case in decades,” Patil said. The Arkansas Legislative Council’s Administrative Rules and Regulations subcommittee also approved changes to eliminate TB testing for foster and adoptive families.
Required annual TB testing will continue for: hospital employees and those at other medical facilities, prisons, homeless shelters, and nursing homes. Prisoners and people likely to stay in a homeless shelter for at least 14 days must also be tested. Other groups include foreign-born students who attend Arkansas universities.
Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock) is worried about fewer people being tested for TB. “We run the risk of this state once again having an outbreak,” she said. However, the Board of Health has the authority to resume mandatory testing for these groups if a TB outbreak occurs, said Robert Brech, its deputy general counsel.