Tuberculosis warning issued for Southwestern and San Diego City colleges

This digitally colorized scanning electron micrograph shows the shape of mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria spores, which cause tuberculosis.
(National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID))

Two tuberculosis cases, one each at Southwestern College in Chula Vista and San Diego City College, have prompted a public health warning.

Though the county health department said in a statement that the two cases are unrelated, it also indicated that the areas of concern are not limited to the two college campuses. Metropolitan Transit System’s bus route No. 12, which runs from City College downtown east to the Skyline Hills neighborhood, is also on the watch list.

Possible exposure periods include:

*Southwestern College from Aug. 26 to Dec. 10;

*San Diego City College from July 26 to Aug. 5 and from Aug. 19 to Dec. 16;

*Bus Route 12 from July 26 to Aug. 5 and from Aug. 19 to Dec. 16. Exposures were most likely from Monday through Friday between 7:59 a.m. and 8:47 departing Skyline and from 7:04 p.m. to 8:04 p.m. departing City College.

Both campuses are offering free testing to anyone who thinks they may have been exposed. Southwestern is offering the service at Student Health Services, 900 Otay Lakes Road Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. City College students can contact the campus’s student health clinic when it reopens on Feb. 3 or call the county’s TB Control Program at (619) 692-8621 to arrange for testing.


Tuberculosis, a bacteria that can attack the lungs, can spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes, but is typically contracted only by people who have spent a lot of time with those infected, experts say.

Tuberculosis has been falling in prevalence in the United States for many years. Last year, there were 9,025 reported cases of the disease in the United States, the lowest rate ever, according to officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In California, however, the number of new TB cases increased slightly in 2018 to 2,092 cases, and the TB rate is now double the nation’s, according to state data. More than 80% of California’s cases are among people born outside of the United States, and more than half are among Asian Americans, the data show.

In San Diego County, there were 265 tuberculosis cases reported in 2019, up from 226 in 2018, according to the health department.

Most people who contract tuberculosis do not have symptoms, and the disease remains latent, unable to spread to others. When people can’t fight the bacteria, the disease becomes active, and they begin showing symptoms such as a severe cough, chest pain and weight loss.

Health officials said that if people test positive for latent TB, they can undergo treatment that will prevent the disease from becoming infectious, protecting themselves and others. Without proper treatment, tuberculosis can be fatal.

Sisson writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune