HAMPTON — The Iowa Department of Public Health’s medical director says there were 49 cases of active tuberculosis in Iowa last year. Dr. Caitlin Pedati says that’s a significant reduction compared to historic trends in Iowa.

“As far back as the 1930s and 1940s, we were seeing 500 (to) 700 cases of this and part of what Public Health does is try and get better at identifying those cases quickly to prevent them from moving and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” Pedati says. “We’ve seen those numbers come down over the years.”

Pedati, who is also the state epidemiologist, will not comment directly on the Hampton-Dumont High School student who was diagnosed this week with TB. Pedati’s agency, though, is coordinating with the school nurse to come up with a list of people who’ve had close contact with the Hampton-Dumont student. All will be offered free TB tests and free treatment if they’re found to have the illness.

“What we’re trying to do is figure out both an acute disease tuburculosis case which is somebody who’s actively sick, and then we also try and look for people who might have what’s called latent tuberculosis, so they would have been exposed to the germ, but they won’t have symptoms,” Pedati says. “Now those people are not going to be contagious and actually many of those people will never go on to develop disease.”

Dr. Pedati says in a few weeks health officials will follow up with those who test positive for “latent” TB to see if any symptoms have developed.

“Both for latent tuberculosis and active tuberculosis there are medications that you would take. The exact medicines and the time frames that you would take them are a little bit different depending on which group you’re in and a couple of other factors,” Pedati says. “But, yes, there are good medications available.”

Tuberculosis is spread when someone with the disease coughs, laughs, speaks or sings and someone nearby breathes in the bacteria and it settles in their lungs. TB is not spread by shaking hands, sharing food, kissing or touching bed sheets or toilet seats.