All of the employees at the Wayne Farms fresh processing plant in Decatur have received tuberculosis skin tests and 212 of them tested positive.
Health workers read and tabulated a final batch of tests Wednesday, said Scott Jones, interim director of the State Department of Public Health’s Tuberculosis Control Division. Of the 598 tests administered Monday, 165 tested positive.
In skin tests administered to 167 fresh processing employees Oct. 11, 47 tested positive. One of the 47 has active tuberculosis disease, which is contagious.
All told, 28 percent of those who received skin tests at the fresh processing plant tested positive.
Jones said all 165 employees with positive TB results in the most recent tests would receive chest X-rays on Thursday. Doctors will evaluate those X-rays early next week to determine if any of them have signs of active TB disease.
Latent TB infection is not contagious, but it remains in the body for life in the absence of treatment. About 10 percent of latent TB infections eventually become active TB disease, usually because of a compromised immune system.
Jones said he was not surprised at the number of Wayne Farms employees who tested positive.
“The majority of the folks that we’re dealing with in this situation are foreign born,” Jones said. “I would expect about 30 percent of them to test positive.”
Both employees with active TB disease are Hispanics born in countries with a high incidence of TB, health officials said.
Coughing, laughing or talking can transmit the airborne tuberculosis bacteria. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 15 minutes of close contact with a person who has active TB disease will cause up to 50 percent of people to become infected.
People who are contagious almost always are obviously ill, said Dr. Scott Harris, an infectious disease specialist who works in the TB clinic at the Morgan County Health Department.
Humans cannot catch TB bacteria from chickens, and the bacteria cannot be transmitted through chicken meat.