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Tests confirm one case of TB at Chambersburg Area Senior High School

January 10, 2012|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com
  • Dr. Stephen Ostroff, Pennsylvanias acting physician general, discusses the tuberculosis case at Chambersburg Area Senior High School during a press conference Tuesday in Chambersburg, Pa.
Photo by Jennifer Fitch

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — The one case of tuberculosis confirmed at Chambersburg Area Senior High School remains the only active diagnosis in the wake of 200 preliminary tests, Pennsylvania’s acting physician general said Tuesday afternoon.

Dr. Stephen Ostroff explained to the media the differences between active tuberculosis and its dormant precursor, which does not have symptoms and can be cured with medications if caught early.

Skin tests done Friday at the high school will not distinguish between the types of TB. Follow-up chest X-rays are being ordered for anyone who tested positive during skin tests.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has refused to release the total number of positive TB skin test results, citing privacy laws that include the Pennsylvania Disease Control and Prevention Law. It did confirm the initial case reported early last week.

“Other than the one instance that started all the concerns at the school, I’m not aware of any other cases of active tuberculosis that have been identified in the school or in contacts of the school,” Ostroff said.

The “vast majority” of people with the dormant infection never get the active disease, Ostroff said. In some cases, tuberculosis will become active years or decades after exposure, he said.

Ostroff said that “90 to 95 percent of the time, there’s no subsequent illness that occurs after someone has been exposed to TB.”

The Chambersburg Area School District and Pennsylvania Department of Health will host an informational session for families on Thursday regarding pulmonary tuberculosis. It is scheduled for 6 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

TB symptoms include a cough lasting three weeks or more, unexplained loss of weight or appetite, chest pain, night sweats, fatigue, nausea, fever, coughing up blood or chills, according to a health department fact sheet.

A TB investigation must be conducted systematically and methodically over time, Ostroff said.

“It’s a slow-moving infection in contrast to what we usually deal with, such as a measles case,” he said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health manages one or two TB investigations in schools each year, Ostroff said. State doctors report 700 to 1,000 cases of active TB every year, he said.

Often, latent TB, the dormant version, is contracted outside the country. Other countries offer a vaccine, but Ostroff said its effectiveness has not been fully determined to meet U.S. standards.

The health department continues to seek out people who might have had contact with Chambersburg’s TB patient.

“We pretty much know who the contacts are, and we can work on a one-on-one basis with the parents, the families, the teachers,” Ostroff said.

Anyone who has concerns and wants to be tested may call the state health center at 717-263-4143. The state is paying for testing.

Although TB is treatable and curable, Ostroff said it is stigmatized, like many of the diseases handled by the state health department.

“A lot of these carry stigmas with them because there are a lot of misconceptions within the public about diseases that don’t occur very often,” he said.

If you go ...
What: Tuberculosis informational session
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: Chambersburg Area Senior High School auditorium
For more information, call the Franklin County State Health Center from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at 717-263-4143 or 877-PA-HEALTH.

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