Students may have been exposed to TB

November 21, 1997

Students may have been exposed to TB


Staff Writer

A person at the Career Studies Center may have contracted tuberculosis, an infectious disease that spreads between people through the air, Washington County schools officials said Thursday.

Officials would not say whether the person was a teacher or student, saying further identification would not be appropriate.

The person was identified as possibly having the disease while undergoing a series of tests for a different condition, said Arnold Hammann, principal of the Oak Ridge Drive school, where about 342 students attend vocational classes.

The person has not been in the school for several weeks, Hammann said.

Additional tests will be conducted to confirm whether the person has TB, and the individual will not be back at school until the tests are completed, said Hammann.


"The health department is on top of it. They're following all the proper procedures," Hammann said.

School officials say they do not believe any students at the school were affected, in part because some preliminary tests on the person were negative for TB, said Robert Parker, health officer for Washington County.

Symptoms of the disease include coughing, chest pain or coughing up blood. Officials tested phlegm from the individual, which turned up negative for TB, Parker said.

There are different forms of the disease in humans, but the most common develops in the lungs and that is what health officials are most concerned about, said Parker.

Parker said there was only a "very, very slim chance" that students or teachers who were not in the classroom with the person were exposed to any danger.

As a precaution, the Washington County Health Department has identified students and faculty members who were in closest contact with the person, and free TB tests will be offered to those people, school officials said.

People stricken with TB may complain of feeling weak or sick, or of having a fever and night sweats. The disease can cause permanent damage to the body and death if left untreated, Parker said.

Antibiotics fight the disease, and the cure rate is extremely high with the proper treatment, Parker said.

There is a difference between people who have a TB infection and TB disease. People with TB infection are not sick because the germ is inactive in the body, and it cannot be spread to others, officials said.

Parker said he believes the person at the Career Studies Center may have the disease.

Parker said incidences of the disease had been decreasing rapidly until the mid-1980s, but "we got complacent about it" and it started rebounding.

Last year, 21,337 cases of TB were reported across the U.S. That's a rate of eight per 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

-- Maryland, with 319 cases, or 6.3 per 100,000, was ranked 20th among the states in the U.S., the CDC said.

-- Pennsylvania had 583 cases in 1996, or 4.8 cases per 100,000. The state was ranked 27th.

-- West Virginia reported 57 cases, or 3.1 per 100,000, ranking it 34th in the country, the CDC said.

Staff writer Laura Ernde contributed to this story.

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