Local TB Case Puts Spotlight on Deadly Disease

By: Dana Brueck Email
By: Dana Brueck Email

Local health officials say the case of a former Madison man with Tuberculosis puts the spotlight on the deadly disease.

"Year in and year out, TB is the greater killer worldwide," Dr. Thomas Schlenker says.

The City of Madison went to court to force the man to undergo testing for TB. He has since relocated to California, where he is cooperating with health officials, but Madison health officials say the case is cause for concern.

A bench warrant was issued in Madison for the man's arrest after he failed to comply with a court order for testing.

"To my knowledge, we have not had a case like this in the city," Assistant City Attorney Marci Paulsen says.

Diagnosing tuberculosis is as easy as a skin test. But health officials say the case of a man suffering from the potentially deadly disease proved incredibly difficult.

"What was at issue was whether he was infectious to other people, and if so, when, because TB can be growing in your lungs, but at some point in its development, the tissue breaks open and all of these bacteria can be expelled in sneezing or coughing," Madison and Dane County's Director of Public Health, Dr. Thomas Schlenker, says.

Schlenker appealed to Paulsen for help after the man refused testing and treatment. Paulsen says a judge issued a court order requiring the man to appear for monthly exams, but he failed to do so, leading to a bench warrant for his arrest.

"We had a Madison police officer go out to his residence. We discovered he'd left the area at the beginning of January," Paulsen says.

Still, Schlenker says his office managed nine cases of TB last year.

TB is a bacterial infection spread by coughing or sneezing. Schlenker says the disease gets less attention than the flu, but is deadlier around the world.

"It's extremely prevalent, and the way people move back and forth, one day in China, the next in the U.S. There's so much international travel, that we could be exposed at any minute," Schlenker says.

However, Schlenker also says this case provides a good example of the coordination needed to prevent the spread of disease.

He says the man came from a part of Asia, where the disease is "rampant."

Health officials say no one else was infected by the man. The city attorney has since filed a motion to dismiss the case.

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