By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
An employee at a local milk processing plant has contracted tuberculosis, but health officials say there is little danger of the disease spreading.
DairiConcepts spokeswoman Monica Coleman confirmed late Thursday the company had been contacted by the state health department regarding an employee with tuberculosis. She said all employees had been informed and the company was offered testing for the contagious disease.
The employee is being treated and is on leave, she said.
Coleman said there is no danger of the disease spreading through food processing at the Portales plant, which employs more than 100 people and processes milk into dairy ingredients for a wide range of products.
“As a food business we take extraordinary measures to ensure the safety of our product,” Coleman said. “In this case there was no danger there anyway.”
The case was confirmed this week, according to Dr. Winona Stoltzfus, the Region 4 health officer who oversees an eight-county area that includes Roosevelt County.
She declined to provide further details, citing confidentiality laws.
She said persons in close contact with the individual have all been offered skin tests for the disease. She said the health department was confident any potential for spread of the disease had been contained.
“It’s not casual contact,” Stoltzfus said of the way in which the disease can be transmitted. “Most people are infected for years.”
Once the leading cause of death in the U.S., TB is rarely fatal today due to improvements in drug therapy, health officials said.
Stoltzfus said immuno-suppressed individuals are at greatest risk.
According to the health department, tuberculosis is a disease caused by germs spread through the air from person to person. It usually affects the lungs. It is normally spread when a person with the active infection coughs or sneezes and someone nearby breathes the tiny droplets expelled into the air.
State health officials took the rare step this week of issuing a press release about another tuberculosis case at the United World College in Montezuma because of the severity of the case and the college’s desire to get the information out.
“This (cases of tuberculosis) is actually very routine for the department,” said Chris Minnick, a public information officer. “It very rarely turns out to be more than one case because we attack it so aggressively.”
DairiConcepts is a joint venture between Dairy Farmers of America and Fonterra.
At a glance
• 39 cases of tuberculosis (two per 100,000 persons) were reported in New Mexico in 2005
• 14,097 cases (4.8 cases per 100,000 persons) were reported in the U.S. in 2005
• New Mexico is classified as a “low-incidence” state for tuberculosis by the Centers for Disease Control
• Other New Mexico counties with TB cases include San Miguel, Dona Ana, San Juan, Santaa Fe and Bernalillo
Source: New Mexico Department of Health