Alabama health officials have identified 212 workers who have tested positive for tuberculosis at a single poultry plant owned by one of the largest processors in the U.S.
In two batteries of skin tests last month, given to 765 fresh processing employees at the Decatur, Ala., plant owned by Wayne Farms LLC by the State Department of Public Health's Tuberculosis Control Division, 28 percent were found to be infected, including one with active tuberculosis disease, which is contagious. Doctors have yet to evaluate X-rays for 165 current workers who tested positive to determine if any more are contagious.
The testing was prompted by an earlier active TB case – a former Wayne Farms worker.
Both employees with active TB are Hispanics born in countries where the disease is prevalent, heath officials said.
Accompanied by the rise in illegal immigration, tuberculosis is making a comeback in the U.S., often eluding diagnosis by doctors who are unfamiliar with the disease.
Scott Jones, interim director of the Tuberculosis Control Division told the Decatur Daily he was not surprised at the large number of 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."
Of particular concern to public health officials are emerging strains of drug-resistant TB brought to the U.S. by illegal aliens who bypass the screening regularly done with legal immigrants.