Many people have no idea how being exposed to a communicable disease can affect them until it happens to them or their family, friends or loved ones. Communicable diseases can be passed through a variety of ways: person to person includes such diseases as TB or Shigellosis; insects to persons include West Nile Virus or Lyme Disease; or animals to persons, such as Rabies or Hantavirus. Communicable diseases can affect anyone, from newborn infants to the elderly and often strike those who have the least amount of defense against fighting off disease, such as the infants that haven’t fully developed their immune systems, the elderly and people whose immune systems are not working properly, such as cancer patients on chemotherapy. Suddenly, a person is very sick and those closest to that person face consequences as a result of being in contact with that person. The Sampson County Health Department Communicable Disease Programs are responsible for following up on all reportable communicable diseases in Sampson County. These programs include Tuberculosis (TB), Communicable Diseases and Vaccine-Preventable Diseases.
For example, Jane Doe has cancer and has been on chemotherapy for five months. She develops a cough that continues for the next three to four weeks. She gets up one day and starts to cough up blood. She goes to her doctor who sends her for an X-ray. The X-ray shows a place on her lung called a “cavitary lesion,” a classic sign of Tuberculosis, more commonly referred to as TB, a communicable disease. She is admitted to the hospital and put in the “Isolation Room” where family and friends must wear a mask each time they go to visit her. The hospital infection control nurse will immediately notify the Sampson County Health Department Communicable Disease Program coordinator that a TB suspect has been admitted to the hospital. A health department nurse will visit Jane in the hospital and begin an investigation. Every one who lives in her house, including her two young grandchildren, and every one who has had close contact with her, including the cancer clinic nurses, get a TB skin test provided by the health department. One of Jane’s grandchildren and one of the cancer clinic nurses test positive for TB infection and now must be placed on preventive TB medications.
Another example of the need for health department intervention includes infant John Doe, a 3-month-old, who has a cough that makes him lose his breath. His mother takes him to his pediatrician, who orders several tests. One of the tests is for Pertussis, or Whooping Cough, and the results are positive. The doctor immediately notifies Sampson County Health Department and an investigation is initiated. The Health Department nurse talks to the parents and discovers that John attends a day care. The nurse then visits the day care and screens the staff and children for any symptoms of Pertussis or Whooping Cough; there, two additional children and a staff member are also positive for Pertussis. The Health Department then provides treatment for all of the cases’ family members, the day care staff, classmates and others that were in close contact with the cases.
Under federal and state laws, any facility that confirms a communicable disease case must report it to the health department. This includes doctors, clinics, hospitals and testing laboratories. The Sampson County Health Department Communicable Disease staff is responsible for monitoring, assessing, reporting, investigating and ensuring treatment for people with communicable diseases. The staff uses the North Carolina electronic communicable disease surveillance system to constantly monitor for diseases that can affect county residents. Health department staff is also responsible for the contact investigation and treatment for the people who are contacts to a communicable disease case.
The Sampson County Health Department, through careful vigilance and surveillance of communicable diseases, works diligently to protect the health and well-being of the citizens of Sampson County. For more information on communicable diseases, call the Sampson County Health Department at 910-592-1131, ext. 4972, 4248 or 4247.