by Laura Hall, Spanish Teacher Shelburne, Vermont
In the fall of 2014, Laura Hall, a Spanish teacher in Shelburne, Vermont struggled through countless doctor visits and multiple misdiagnoses, losing nearly 15 pounds. Eventually, her doctors diagnosed her with active tuberculosis (TB) — which had likely been contracted in Peru while visiting family, but had been living dormant for years.
While it’s easy to believe that TB doesn’t affect Americans, approximately 13 million people in the U.S., have latent TB, and infecting approximately one-third of the people globally, making it one the biggest infectious disease killers worldwide.
TB is a potentially serious infectious bacterial disease that mainly effects the lungs and comes in two forms: latent and active. Latent TB has no symptoms and can live dormant in the body years, but can progress to active TB when a person’s immunity becomes weakened, becoming highly contagious. Given the silent symptoms of latent TB, people often aren’t diagnosed until it progresses to active.
“I remember getting the TB skin test and being told that it was negative,” Laura recalls. However, the test did not pick up her latent TB infection, showing a false negative, so she was not treated at that time. If Laura had been tested for latent TB with a more accurate blood test, doctors could have begun treatment to stop the infection before it progressed to active TB.
“As soon as I was diagnosed, I remembered all of the times I hugged and kissed my family while I had unknowingly had tuberculosis. I was so afraid that I may have made them sick,” Laura remembers.
Dr. Michael Lauzardo, Infectious Disease Specialist at the University of Florida says, “people who are from or who have recently traveled to high-risk areas should talk with their doctors about being tested. Most people do not understand their risks, which is why latent TB often goes undiagnosed.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, TB is eight times more prevalent in Hispanics compared to non-Hispanics.
Laura’s active TB forced her to be quarantined at home for months. “I couldn’t go out, see friends and was unable to teach for five months while I was being treated,” Laura says. “It was incredibly isolating. I remember the panic that developed at my school and local community when the Vermont Department of Health required that 500 students and co-workers be tested for TB after my diagnosis.” The department of health found nineteen children and two adults positive for latent TB.
Today Laura advocates for people to take control of their health and talk to their doctors about latent TB. By getting tested with a blood test, if positive, they can begin treatment to stop the infection before it progresses to active. Recently, the CDC issued a notification that IGRA (interferon gamma release assay) tests, such as QuantiFERON-TB® Gold Plus, will be required for all immigration screening starting October 1, 2018.
If you or a family member think you may be living with latent TB, talk to your doctor about getting tested for latent TB – and request the TB blood test. Learn more at www.pruebadesangretb.com.