The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Detroit health officials limit testing in TB cases

Dec 20, 2004

There have been two separate cases of tuberculosis reported within a recent two week span in Detroit. One case involved a staff member at a school and the other a kitchen worker at the MotorCity Casino.

In response to the school case, the school's principal sent a general information letter to all parents, but only parents of a more restricted group of students who were deemed "at risk" were told their children needed to be tested. Those parents were given the option of having their kids tested at the school or taking them to a private doctor for testing.

At the casino, a small number of workers were tested. There was no testing set up for customers of the casino or many other casino workers who may have had contact with the worker who contracted the disease. Instead the Detroit Health Department downplayed the problem by claiming that you have to come in close contact with someone with active TB for 30 days in order to get the disease.

In September, an employee at the main State of Michigan office building in Detroit was found to have TB. In that case, the State also tried to limit the number of workers who got free TB tests. After it came out that Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm got tested after having spent only a little time in the building, workers forced the State to test everyone who worked in the building. Fifty-eight people were found to have tested positive for TB. It has yet to be determined whether these are latent cases, or if any of these workers will be shown to have active cases of tuberculosis. Only people with active cases, meaning they actually show symptoms of the disease, can spread it.

Public health scientists have known how to prevent and treat tuberculosis for almost a century. Every case should send up an immediate red flag to provide testing to everyone, with the necessary follow-up and treatment. That would be the best way to prevent the spread of a serious infectious disease, especially in cases like these that involve people who come into contact with many others.

That it does not happen is a mark of the growing impoverishment of the public health system. It is like everything else that is not being taken care of: bridges that are falling apart, potholes in the roads, and schools that still have asbestos in them.

This lack of a complete system of public health puts everyone's lives at risk.