TB tests ordered for Sitka Coast Guard members

Posted: Wednesday, June 13, 2001

SITKA (AP) -- A higher-than-average number of positive tests for tuberculosis at the Coast Guard Air Station in Sitka has prompted the commanding officer to order TB skin tests for all members of the Coast Guard there.

''There's no cause for alarm. There's no epidemic and no active cases of TB,'' Cmdr. Richard Stanchi, commanding officer of the air station told The Daily Sitka Sentinel.

''We're seeing something a little abnormal, we don't know why. But we've elected to be aggressive about it,'' he said.

Stanchi said that, so far this year, six positive skin test for TB have turned up among 70 people in the aviation section at the air station. Five of the positive tests showed up during routine annual health screenings and the other in a test requested by a Coast Guard member. On average, there are three to five positive skin tests a year among the 125 active duty personnel Coast Guard personnel stationed at Sitka.

''It concerned us to see six people in five months in one select group,'' Stanchi said. ''That's a little abnormal. The statistic is insignificant but it raised some concerns.''

The state Department of Health and Social Services says no active TB cases were reported in Southeast last year. But Stanchi said the high number of positive tests in one work area at the station and the fact that Alaska led the nation in active TB cases last year raised concern.

Stanchi decided the best course of action was to check everyone employed by or assigned to the Coast Guard in Sitka, including the approximately 60 crewmen aboard the Cutter Woodrush, which was decommissioned in March. Coast Guard members who have left Sitka since last September will also be tested. Stanchi said he expects more than 190 people in all will be tested. Testing will be available to family members of Coast Guard personnel who request it.

A positive skin test does not mean a person has tuberculosis, but it indicates they were exposed to the respiratory disease.

Cmdr. Sharon Ludwig, the Coast Guard's chief epidemiologist, plans to visit Sitka on June 24.

''This is a collaborative effort between the Coast Guard and state Department of Health,'' Stanchi said.

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