After news broke of one of the largest tuberculosis (TB) outbreaks in Jacksonville, Fla., students at USF can take some solace in anew policy designed to prevent TB from entering a campus familiar with the disease.
During the past academic year, two unrelated incidents of TB were detected on campus, each investigated by the Hillsborough County Public Health Department.
The new policy, which was proposed at the end of May and approved by the General Counsel last week, will now require international students or students living outside the U.S. at the time of application to be screened for TB and provide documentation of the results before being allowed to register for classes. Student Health Services (SHS) will conduct TB testing if students do not provide documentation prior to arriving.
Applicants who test positive for infection will then need to provide evidence of a follow up chest X-ray. Students with active TB, or students who do not provide adequate documentation, will not be cleared to attend classes or live on campus.
TB is relatively uncommon in the U.S., but in many countries where it is prevalent, there is little or no regulation for vaccination and there is currently no requirement for students to be tested prior to entering the U.S.
Thats part of the problem, Diane Zanto, interim assistant vice president of Health and Wellness for SHS, said. It is recommended, but it is not required.
Judi Sherman, assistant director of Quality and Compliance for SHS, said the policy is not uncommon for universities.
It is recommended by the American College Health Association, which is why USF has adopted it, she said.
Brought to the USF System with the help of Dr. Joseph Puccio, SHS medical director, the screening policy was modeled after a similar policy was. adopted by the University of Florida (UF).
Other than UF, USF will be the only public university in the state that has implemented such a policy. Though after the Jacksonville outbreak, some lawmakers are considering implementing a similar policy at all state institutions, Zanto said.
When TB surfaces in a patient, it is often only after a long dormant period, and the disease only becomes active due to a weakened immune system. The disease is not easily transferred, as it is only contagious in its active phase.
It is only when you have an active case, and prolonged contact, that it becomes contagious, Zanto said.
Due to this, serious outbreaks are rare and do not pose an imminent threat.
In the event of any cases of TB, concerned students are able to receive TB skin tests and blood tests at SHS. The skin tests, available at a lower cost than blood tests, provide results in 48 to 72 hours.
Steve Huard, public information officer for the Hillsborough County Health Department, said despite the diseases low frequency of occurrence, the need for precautions still exist.
Its a disease thats never gone away, Huard said. It is a well documented disease, and we have multiple treatments for it.