The Division of Public Health and Indian River School District announced on Sept. 25 that about 50 individuals at Georgetown Elementary School in Sussex County may have been exposed to someone with active tuberculosis.
DPH is making contact with those individuals to offer free screenings, as well as treatment if needed. To protect medical privacy, no additional information will be provided regarding the source of the infection or the individuals who need testing.
While the risk of transmission is low, the medical guidance is that those who were exposed and become infected with TB bacteria should be treated so they do not develop TB disease. DPH and the school’s administrators met with staff Sept. 24 to provide them with information on TB and next steps. Letters with information on testing and a fact sheet were sent home Sept. 25 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.
TB 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 more 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 which the TB germ has made the person sick. Left untreated, this can result in serious illness. Medication is available to kill the germs in the active form of TB, too, and cure the patient. About 5 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.
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.
Delaware had 16 cases of TB disease — also known as “active TB” — in 2016 and 15 in 2017.
For more, visit cdc.gov/tb/default.htm or dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dph/files/tbfaq.pdf.