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September 24, 2015

This is a joint statement from Michigan Tech and the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD)

A former Michigan Tech student has been diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB).  To respect the patient’s privacy, we will not release their name or other personal or medical information at this time.  However, we understand that this situation may have caused questions and concern among students, staff, and faculty.  We hope the following information will help you understand the actions that have been taken in response to this situation, as well as what this situation means for you.

The ill student is now living in another state and is being treated.  The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department is working with Michigan Tech to identify members of the campus community who spent extensive time with the patient and are risk for TB infection.  Seventeen campus community members have been contacted by WUPHD and offered TB testing.  Should others be identified, WUPHD and Michigan Tech will work together to offer them testing. There is no evidence to suggest any on-going TB exposure in the campus community, related to this case.

TB is a treatable disease caused by bacteria that usually attack the lungs, but this bacteria can also attack other parts of the body.  TB bacteria are spread into the air when a person sick with TB coughs or sneezes.  Other people who spend a lot of time near the sick person may breathe in the TB bacteria and become infected.  TB can only be transmitted through the air, so objects like doorknobs, tools or clothing are not risks for people to be exposed to or infected with TB.  More information about TB can be found below.

In situations like this, public health officials undertake a contact investigation.  People who had the very closest exposure to the ill individual (household contacts for example) are identified and tested first.  If these individuals test positive for TB, the contact investigation is widened to include individuals with less exposure.  This circle of investigation is gradually widened until positive cases are no longer being identified.

Individuals who have positive test results will be referred to a primary care provider for further evaluation and treatment.   Those with negative tests require no further evaluation.  If you have not been notified as yet by WUPHD, it is because you have not been identified as one of the closest contacts.  You may be contacted as the investigation widens.  In the meantime, if you have concerns about exposure or other questions, you may contact Kathy Mell, R.N. or Barb Auten, R.N. at the WUPHD (906-482-7382).  You may also contact your private physician.  For general TB information, please go to

General information about Tuberculosis

The only way for a person to know if they have a TB infection is to have a skin or blood test.  A positive TB test means that the person has had TB bacteria in their body.  In people who have no symptoms of tuberculosis, this test usually means that they have a TB infection without having active TB disease.  The difference is that TB infection is not contagious.  It cannot be transmitted to family and friends.

To distinguish between TB infection and TB disease, a person is referred to a healthcare provider for further evaluation. Most often, this evaluation will involve answering questions about any symptoms of illness, having a physical exam and getting a chest x-ray done.

Not everyone who has TB infection becomes sick. People who have TB infection do not feel sick, do not have symptoms, and cannot spread TB to others, because their immune system is healthy enough to keep the bacteria from growing.  Without treatment for TB infection some people go on to get TB disease, especially those who already have weak immune systems.