Chambersburg parents still have concerns about TB

January 12, 2012|By JENNIFER FITCH |
  • Pennsylvania Department of Health spokeswoman Christine Cronkright, left, asks questions of a panel of experts Thursday during an educational forum at Chambersburg (Pa.) Area Senior High School.
Photo by Jennifer Fitch

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania Department of Health officials discussed tuberculosis and answered questions about the bacterial infection for an hour Thursday, but some parents said they left the educational forum with questions.

“I felt the answers were very evasive in some cases,” said Lori Curtis, whose daughter is in ninth grade at Chambersburg Area Senior High School.

Early last week, Chambersburg Area Senior High School officials were notified that someone in the building had a confirmed case of active pulmonary tuberculosis. That report from the health department led to preliminary testing on Jan. 6 for additional cases.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has refused to release the number of positive TB skin test results, citing privacy laws that include the Pennsylvania Disease Control and Prevention Law. Officials say skin tests can be misleading for a number of reasons, including the fact that TB can lay dormant in a person’s system for decades.

“I think the school district needs to be more forthcoming,” said Curtis, noting that dormant TB leads to active TB.

Follow-up chest X-rays are used to diagnose active TB.

The initial case of active TB remains the only one that is confirmed, officials said Thursday evening.

Like Curtis, some other families are frustrated that the number of positive TB skin test results is being kept under wraps.

Two women handed out masks and surgical gloves before Thursday’s information session in quiet protest. One student yelled to doctors that he’s concerned about classmates and his brothers because he doesn’t know how far TB has spread.

However, one man, who identified himself as John, stood during the forum to say he has first-hand experience with positive TB skin tests, long incubation periods associated with the infection and treatment to prevent dormant TB from becoming active. John said he was exposed to TB while serving with the U.S. Army in Germany.

“It has been 34 years, and, praise God, I’m still asymptomatic,” he said.

Dr. Edward Zuroweste, who is the former medical director of Keystone Health Center and former school physician for the Chambersburg Area School District, shared information about TB he said should “alleviate your concerns and fears.”

Zuroweste said:

• Of the 7 billion people in the world, 2 billion have dormant or active TB.

• “You can’t get TB from someone who is infected (and dormant). You can only get TB from someone who has the (active) disease and is coughing.”

• Antibiotics released in the 1950s made TB very treatable. Before then, patients were taken to places like a facility in South Mountain, Pa., and quarantined.

• “It’s rare when we go two to three months without an active TB case (in Franklin County). ... It’s more common than people think.”

• Six to nine months of antibiotics can almost kill dormant TB bacteria. “We do that all the time.”

• Of people with dormant tuberculosis, 10 percent will get the active disease.

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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