IRSD, DPH say a small number may have been exposed

The Delaware Division of Public Health and Indian River School District announced today that a small number of individuals may have been exposed to someone with active tuberculosis while being transported to and from the Howard T. Ennis School in Georgetown.

DPH began outreach Monday afternoon via phone and mail to the small number of individuals who may have been exposed, and continue outreach today.

Free screenings will be offered to those individuals, as well as treatment if needed. While the risk of transmission is low, those who have been exposed and become infected with the TB bacteria should be treated so they do not develop TB disease. To protect medical privacy, no additional information will be provided on the active TB case or the individuals who need testing.

“At the Division of Public Health, 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 Ennis who are working closely with us,” said DPH Director Dr. Karyl Rattay. 

“We have reached out to the small number of individuals who need testing. If someone does not hear from us by letter or phone, they have no reason to get tested. This situation is a good reminder that TB is still active in our community and it’s important to test those who may be at risk for the disease.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following people get tested for TB:

People who have may have been exposed to someone who has TB disease. People from a continent or country where TB disease is common, including but not limited to, Eastern Europe, Russia, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa. People who live or work in high-risk settings (for example, correctional facilities, long-term care facilities or nursing homes, and homeless shelters). Health care workers who care for patients at increased risk for TB disease. Infants, children and adolescents exposed to adults who are at increased risk for latent tuberculosis infection or TB disease.

“In consulting with the Division of Public Health, we believe the risk of transmission, in this case, to be low,” Indian River School District Superintendent Mark 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.”

TB is generally on the decline throughout the country – with 9,557 cases nationwide in 2015 – but vigilance is important. Delaware had 22 cases of TB disease (also known as “active TB”) in 2015, 16 in 2016, and 10 to date in 2017. As opposed to the latent kind, TB disease cases are defined as having the symptoms of the illness and potentially being able to spread it to others. 

TB is a bacteria that can be inhaled by others when a nearby person with the active disease coughs, 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. 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).

Most people who are infected with the TB bacteria will have a positive TB test, but will never develop symptoms and cannot spread the disease to other individuals. Only people with TB symptoms can spread the disease. TB is not spread by shaking hands, touching, sharing food or drink, utensils, bed linens or toilet seats, sharing toothbrushes, or saliva from kissing.

TB disease is treatable and curable, usually by taking several medications for 6 to 9 months. About 5 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.

In most people who breathe in TB bacteria and become infected, the body is able to fight the bacteria to stop them from growing. The bacteria become inactive, but they remain alive in the body and can become active later. This is called latent TB infection. People with latent TB infection cannot spread TB bacteria to others. People who have latent TB infection can be treated to prevent TB disease from developing.