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Rural Alaska

Alaska health officials fear tuberculosis might have been spread at religious gathering

BETHEL - Attendees at a religious meeting may have been exposed to tuberculosis, officials said.

A person who was diagnosed with an active case of the disease participated in the New Fire Bethel Ministry revival April 12-14, KYUK-AM reported.

The person attended all three days of the event in Western Alaska, according to Alaska public health and Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. officials.

Tuberculosis bacterium, which usually attacks the lungs, can spread easily and symptoms are not obvious, often leaving people unaware they carry it.

There were up to a hundred people at the event each day who could have been exposed, said Mitchell Forbes, Yukon-Kuskokwim Health public relations director.

"There is obviously potential that others could have it in their system now as well," Forbes said.

Alaska has the highest rate of tuberculosis in the nation, but the state's strain is not resistant to medication and can be treated and cured, unlike the tuberculosis in the lower 48 states, officials said.

Left untreated, the disease can be fatal, said Alaska public health nurse Evalina Achee.

Tuberculosis can spread easily in crowded housing conditions, she said.

"If they are living in a house without proper ventilation they can infect their whole family," Achee said.

A body can carry the tuberculosis bacterium without it becoming active. Treatment requires taking pills once weekly for three months if the disease is inactive, said Donna Bean, a public health nurse who manages tuberculosis cases.

“And if it’s active, it’s daily for six months,” Bean said.

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