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Five more test positive for TB

COVINGTON - Five more Newton County residents have tested positive for active tuberculosis, according to a spokesman for the East Metro Health District.

Four children and one adult are now at the contagious stage, having contracted the infection from Anthony Underwood, the 32-year-old man who was jailed in early May for refusing to follow his treatment plan.

Vernon Goins, spokesman for the East Metro Health District, would not confirm whether those affected are family members or if they live at Underwood's residence at 170 Heritage Way, but he did say they all had "close and continuous contact" with Underwood.

The children are not school-age and do not attend day care, so "there is absolutely no threat to the public," Goins said.

The children's parents and the infected adult have been compliant with treatment, which includes drug therapy and self-isolation, meaning they are not allowed to leave their homes, Goins said.

Previously, Goins told the Citizen at least seven children living in the house with Underwood, and another family member living outside the home, had tested positive for exposure but were not contagious. A positive sample of sputum, or phlegm deep inside the lungs, indicates contagion, and is conducted following a positive skin test and chest X-ray.

Health officials estimate that Underwood, who remains jailed, has exposed at least 200 people to the disease. Efforts to track down his contacts during the last three months have spanned six health districts, Goins said, adding that Underwood apparently traveled for his job.

Records at the Newton County Detention Center indicate Underwood works for R&L Painting, but do not show an address for the business.

"This will go on for a long time," Goins said of the search for contacts. "Obviously, (Underwood) caught it from somebody, so we have to work forwards and backwards to find as many contacts as humanly possible. When we learn of something this advanced, it's unlikely we'll be able to track down everyone until they come to the point they need medical attention and seek it out."

Goins said community-based outbreaks are more difficult to confine than outbreaks at institutions such as schools and hospitals because they can be so widespread.

"It's certainly a broad-reaching exercise. We're getting a lot of experience working a community case, which we don't get very often. It's an education for us all. It's good practice working with our district partners and state partners," he said.

The health department was notified by Newton Medical Center of Underwood's condition May 2.

Underwood was released from the hospital May 5 and ordered to remain confined at home and allow the health department to administer medication until he was no longer contagious.

Medical personnel began administering the drugs to Underwood at his residence May 6, but he was arrested three days later after he wasn't home for scheduled treatments.

Lisa Smith, a nurse at the infirmary at the Newton County Detention Center, said he was placed in one of the infirmary's "negative pressure rooms," which is specially designed for those with communicable diseases.

"All the air is sucked up through vents and not released out into the open so he is in complete isolation," she said. "Any time staff members enter the room, we have on masks."

Underwood will only be released after three tests of the fluid in his lungs are negative, and if he agrees to comply with treatment, which must continue for several months, Goins said.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.