BRUNSWICK – A member of the Bowdoin College community has been diagnosed with active tuberculosis, according to an email sent to students, faculty and employees Monday morning.

The college was notified late last week that someone had been recently diagnosed, and the person has since been isolated and is receiving treatment. Nobody else has tested positive. There is no elevated threat to students, faculty, staff of the Brunswick population, said Jeff Maher, director of health services at Bowdoin.

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease spread through the air that usually attacks the lungs, but can also attack the kidneys, spine and brain among other organs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are two tuberculosis infections: active and latent. Those infected with latent tuberculosis do not usually become sick.

With active tuberculosis, symptoms can include a bad cough that lasts more than three weeks, pain in the chest and coughing up blood. The disease is spread when one person with the disease in the lungs or throat coughs, speaks or sings. The disease is not spread by shaking someone’s hand, sharing food or drink, sharing toothbrushes or kissing, the CDC said. It takes repeated and prolonged exposure in an indoor space to become infected, Maher wrote.

The investigation into the case at Bowdoin is ongoing, and anyone who has had close contact with the infected person has been notified and tested, he said.

While Maher said the general Bowdoin campus community is not at increased risk of tuberculosis as a result of the case, it is “an ongoing global public health concern and, since Bowdoin College is an international community, it won’t be surprising if we continue to see new TB cases in the future,” he added.

The college is working with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to determine “who may have been exposed, to notify anyone affected, to test those who were exposed for possible infection, and to provide guidance and information to the Bowdoin community,” Maher said. “Unless you hear from a state health official or from one of their proxy officials, you are not at any increased risk.”

So far there have been seven cases of TB in the state in 2019, according to Emily Spencer, director of communication for the Maine CDC. Six of those have been in Cumberland County. In 2018 here were 14, 11 of which were in Cumberland County.

Cases have been going down in recent years. The U.S. CDC reports that in 2017, a total of 9,105 or 2.8 cases per 100,000 were reported in the United States, a decrease from 2016 and the lowest case count on record. There is a vaccine for tuberculosis, but it is not widely used in the United States, according to the CDC. It is more commonly given to infants and small children in areas like Southeast Asia and India where TB is more common.

The vaccine is not generally recommended for use in the United States “because of the low risk of infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the variable effectiveness of the vaccine against adult pulmonary TB, and the vaccine’s potential interference with tuberculin skin test reactivity,” Spencer said. “The BCG vaccine should be considered only for very select persons who meet specific criteria and in consultation with a TB expert.”

Students with questions regarding tuberculosis should contact Bowdoin College Health Services at 725-3770 or [email protected] Faculty and staff with questions should contact their primary care providers.

Hannah LaClaire can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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