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After Possible Tuberculosis Infection, Health Officials Investigate Mather House

Mather House is located at 10 Cowperthwaite Street.
Mather House is located at 10 Cowperthwaite Street.
By Angela N. Fu and Dianne Lee, Crimson Staff Writers

Health officials from Harvard University Health Services, the Cambridge Public Health Department, and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health are identifying residents potentially exposed to tuberculosis in Mather House, noting that a resident may have come down with the disease.

In an email sent to Mather residents Wednesday night,HUHS Director Paul J. Barreira wrote that HUHS or the Cambridge Public Health Department will notify residents who may have been exposed to tuberculosis, a contagious bacterial disease.

Cambridge and Massachusetts authorities are currently identifying Mather House residents who may have been exposed to tuberculosis.
Cambridge and Massachusetts authorities are currently identifying Mather House residents who may have been exposed to tuberculosis. By Gladys M Kisela

While health officials work to determine whether the resident does indeed have tuberculosis— a process that could take up to 60 days— the individual will undergo treatment.

“In adherence with state law, the individual is receiving treatment and following precautions, as directed by the Cambridge Public Health Department, as if she/he were a confirmed case.” Barreira wrote in an emailed statement. “Upon completion of the 14-day treatment, individuals with active TB are no longer considered contagious.”

Although tuberculosis is spread airborne, Barreira’s email stressed that the disease is not highly contagious and “generally requires prolonged or intense exposure by an infectious person to transmit the infection to others.” One cannot spread it by “sharing food, shaking hands, or touching clothing or linens,” according to Barreira.

According to Cambridge Public Health Department Public Information Officer Susan Feinberg, Cambridge had an average of six confirmed tuberculosis cases per year from 2012 to 2016. Last year, the department confirmed three active cases.

Many Mather House residents said they were unconcerned about the investigation.

“It sounded like it was contained, and the one isolated case was isolated,” said Trevor A. Mullin ’17, a student in Mather.

Joshua B. Rapperport ’17, another Mather resident, said that he would not be taking extra precautions against getting sick.

“Everyone got scared about mumps. I had mumps early on, it wasn’t a big deal. I tend to think people overreact about sickness,” Rapperport said, adding, “Unless there’s actually a disease that was going to kill people, I wouldn’t really ever worry about getting sick, just because you’re going to get sick and there’s probably not anything you can do to avoid it if you’re going to get sick. So if there’s tuberculosis in Mather, what it is is what it is.”

Last spring, more than 60 Harvard affiliates contracted mumps. As the disease spread throughout campus, HUHS quarantined some infected students.

Barreira said that as of Thursday, there were “no other suspect cases of tuberculosis at Harvard, and no one else seen at Harvard University Health Services has been identified as having symptoms consistent with TB.”

—Staff writer Angela N. Fu can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @angelanfu.

—Staff writer Dianne Lee can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @diannelee_.

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