Woodford County inmate had TB

Nick Vlahos

A man who was an inmate last summer at the Woodford County Jail was diagnosed with tuberculosis, but the disease didn’t threaten the general public, health officials said this week.

“My job is to make sure the health of the public is protected. If they need to know something, my job is to make sure they know it,” said Laurie Schierer, the Woodford County Health Department administrator.

“There was no general public exposure, to our knowledge,” she said Monday. “We have gone to great lengths to contact each of the individuals who were exposed.”

Those individuals who tested positive — seven in all — still are undergoing treatment, according to Lynda McKeown, the county director of nursing. Those people were other inmates or county employees who were in contact with the source of the infection, McKeown said Tuesday.

That person remains incarcerated but no longer is in county custody, McKeown said. He was held at the county jail last August.

The Woodford County Board was informed of the tuberculosis case during its November meeting. The discussion was held during an executive session, which is closed to the public. Executive sessions often are conducted when issues involving specific county personnel are discussed.

Minutes from that session state the Illinois Department of Corrections contacted the county Health Department about the case. That office then contacted the Woodford County Sheriff’s Department.

John Krug, chairman of the County Board’s public safety committee, said this situation wasn’t typical. He also said discussion of such topics under the Illinois Open Meetings Act is in a bit of a gray area.

“We know how to handle the dog and cat stuff, but this one was just a bit different,” he said Jan. 31. “Sometimes in small-time local government, you maybe tend to be a little too cautious in not saying something in public.”

The minutes also stated the inmate had been misdiagnosed with pneumonia. Other, less serious afflictions share symptoms with tuberculosis, which is spread through the air.

“You can get it anywhere. That’s the problem,” McKeown said. “You can go to Walmart and somebody can cough on you and if they have TB, they can infect you. Fortunately, this guy was in jail.”

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that usually attacks the lungs. It has become rare in the United States but at one time was a major cause of death. In many parts of the world, it still is.

The seven people who tested positive in Woodford County do not have tuberculosis; rather, they have a latent TB infection, McKeown said. They have no symptoms and are not contagious but could have developed TB if left untreated.

According to McKeown, about 25 people were tested. Treatment for the latent TB infections involves about a nine-month regimen of medication and vitamins taken daily, she said.

“To date, it’s all been preventative-type treatment,” Scheirer said.

There are two other active tuberculosis cases in Woodford County, but neither is related to the inmate’s case, McKeown said. These are the first TB cases in the county in at least five or six years, she said.

Scheirer said her department hasn’t kept the inmate’s TB case a secret.

“Like any communicable disease, we don’t make announcements unless we feel like the public has been exposed and they need that information,” she said. “We were able to identify the individuals, especially because this person wasn’t walking around in the community.”

Said Krug: “If there had been a need for a strong public course of action that would have affected a great number of people, we would have done it differently.”