When the Fairfax County Health Department (FCHD) in Virginia put out a call for volunteers to help conduct a tuberculosis (TB) contact investigation, Rosalia Parada, a long time Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) volunteer, jumped at the chance to serve her community. The investigation was sparked when news of three students from Robert E. Lee High School acquired TB around the same time.
As a nurse and a resident of the Lee High School community, Parada saw firsthand the need for care and support throughout her neighborhood. With a variety of ethnic groups and languages, the community is very diverse, lending itself to some challenges during a public health response of this scope. For example, many families living in the community were from Spanish-speaking backgrounds. In the same situation herself, , Parada felt that volunteering was an opportunity to provide interpretation, as well as nursing services for the contact investigation – when contacts like teachers, other students, and people who interacted with the students would be tested for TB. “Many people don’t have access to health care,” Parada expressed, adding to the need for proper communication about the situation through interpretation.
In the second phase of the contact investigation, screening and testing was provided at many sites around the community, one of which was located at Lee High School. During the second phase, Parada volunteered as a screener. She gathered information, distributed learning materials about what to do if someone has TB, and provided encouragement to those with concerns. Her skills as a nurse permitted Parada to assist with TB testing, such as performing tuberculin skin testing (TST).
Although Parada is a practicing nurse, this was the first time she was involved in a response of this size. During screening and testing, Parada saw the importance of providing comfort and reassurance for families, making them aware and helping build their knowledge about TB and the broad size and scope of the investigation. Parada also stressed community awareness about TB vaccinations as a preventive measure for acquiring TB – and making the community aware of the consequences of not being tested, especially for those who were in close contact with the students who had acquired the active TB disease.
Among the many projects that Parada worked on as an MRC volunteer and as a practicing certified nurse, she says the Lee High School TB contact investigation is the largest and most unique. Parada explained that the gymnasium was very well organized for the screening and testing process, as volunteers kept the flow of students steady. As a mother of three boys who graduated from Lee High School, she understood the worry, questions, and concerns from parents whose children may have been exposed to TB; but as a volunteer nurse, she knew the importance of making parents aware by gathering and providing accurate, helpful information while still being able to ease their worry.
Parada was extremely encouraged by the involvement of the community during the TB response. She said the investigation was a great learning experience for her community. It combined the responsibility of the health department, along with the school and community, to help make people aware of good public health practice.