Friday is World Tuberculosis Day according to the National Institute of Health. Tuberculosis has killed one billion people worldwide since it was discovered 130 years ago.

Infectious Disease Specialist Pam Whitney with the Missoula City County Health Department said the disease is trending downward in Montana, despite one highly publicized case at Flathead High School.

“Last year we saw three cases, the year before we saw four cases and statewide the year before that we saw nine cases, so we’re definitely on the downswing,” said Whitney. “The fact that we’re seeing one case in western Montana raises a lot of questions such as where this individual was exposed. We don’t have the whole story yet in Missoula County because Flathead County hasn’t shared that information yet. Hopefully, this individual was traveling and was exposed that way. That would reassure us that we don’t have a pocket of tuberculosis in our community,”

Whitney reiterated that tuberculosis is highly contagious.

“It is an infectious disease caused by microbacterium tuberculosis and its spread through the air, through coughing. People will usually be coughing up blood containing sputum; they’ll have a high fever, night sweats and weight loss. They used to call it consumption due to the weight loss.”

Whitney said there has not been an active case of tuberculosis reported in Missoula County for over a year.

“People come in for skin tests and if someone is hospitalized for symptoms, both hospitals are excellent about isolating these patients and protecting the rest of the hospital,” she said. “All three public high schools have their own nurse, so if the teacher is concerned about a student, the teacher can consult with the nurse and then the nurse would evaluate.”

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