DPH: Dozens at Georgetown Elementary may have been exposed to TB

Mark Steele

GEORGETOWN — Indian River School District and Delaware’s Division of Public Health are sounding public awareness with word that approximately 50 individuals at Georgetown Elementary School may have been exposed to someone with active tuberculosis.

DPH is contacting those individuals, offering free screenings, as well as treatment if needed.

Letters with information on testing and a fact sheet were to be sent home Tuesday with students who have been identified for testing.

For the remainder of families in the school, a general information letter and fact sheet are being sent home with students.

“We understand that this news can be concerning to parents and the community. I am grateful to the Indian River School District and the team at Georgetown Elementary School who are working closely with us,” said DPH Director Dr. Karyl Rattay. “The letters clearly indicate which students have been identified for testing. Situations such as these are a reminder that TB is still active in our state and it’s important to test those who may be at risk for the disease.”

While the risk of transmission is low, the medical guidance is that those who have been exposed and become infected with TB bacteria should be treated so they do not develop TB disease.

Indian River School District Superintendent Mark Steele said the school district was notified by the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services late last week. “They met with us on Monday to fill us in on what the situation was,” said Mr. Steele.

To protect medical privacy, no additional information will be provided regarding the source of the infection or the individuals who need testing, according to the Department of Public Health.

Tuberculosis is a bacteria that can be inhaled into the lungs of others when a nearby person with an active form of the disease coughs (known as TB disease or active TB), sneezes, sings or laughs. People with TB disease are most likely to spread the disease to people they spend time with every day, such as family or other household members, close friends, and coworkers.

TB is not spread by shaking hands, touching, sharing food or drink, utensils, bed linens or toilet seats, sharing toothbrushes or saliva from kissing.

Not all people who are exposed to someone with TB disease become infected. In those who do have a positive test result, there are two forms of TB. One is “latent TB,” where the germ is “asleep” in the body. The person is not sick and cannot spread the germs to others. Medication is provided to kill the “sleeping” germ, so the person does not become sick in the future.

The second form is “active TB disease.” In that form the TB germ has made the person sick. Left untreated, it can result in serious illness. Medication is available to kill the germs in the active form of TB, too, and cure the patient.

About five percent to 10 percent of persons infected with TB bacteria will develop the disease at some time in their lives; most within the first two years after the infection occurs, according to the DPH.

Signs and symptoms of TB may include a progressively worsening cough that lasts more than two weeks, fatigue, weakness, weight loss, night sweats, fever, chills and chest pain. TB can affect any bodily organ but is infectious to others only when it occurs in the lungs or larynx (voice box), according to the DPH.

“In consulting with the Division of Public Health, we believe the risk of transmission in this case to be low,” Mr. Steele said. “However, as a precautionary measure, we join DPH in recommending that certain individuals be tested for the disease. We have facilitated testing for those individuals determined to be in need of screening. The Indian River School District is committed to taking every possible precaution to assure the health and safety of students, staff and parents.”

DPH personnel are scheduled to be on-site at Georgetown Elementary School, a pre-K through fifth grade school with student enrollment around 800.

“They will be in there this week,” said Mr. Steele. “It is what is, that these sorts of things happen. When it does they (DHSS) come in and they do what they are supposed to do and check to ensure the safety for the community. We’re going to support them in whatever they do and want to do and make sure that it is done right. They are good partners in something like this because they really lead you through everything.”

TB is generally on the decline throughout the country, but vigilance is important. Delaware had 16 cases of TB disease (also known as “active TB”) in 2016, and 15 in 2017.

More information

For additional information on tuberculosis, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at: https://www.cdc.gov/tb/default.htm or the Division of Public Health at https://www.dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dph/files/tbfaq.pdf.

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