Students in Delaware possibly exposed to Tuberculosis

GEORGETOWN, Del. -- A small number of individuals at the the Howard T. Ennis School might have been exposed to someone with active tuberculosis, officials said Tuesday.

The Delaware Division of Public Health and the Indian River School District are making contact with the individuals who might have been exposed to offer free screenings, as well as treatment, if necessary, according to a health department press release.

“At the Division of Public Health, we understand that this news can be concerning to parents and the community," said DPH Director Dr. Karyl Rattay in a release. "I am grateful to the Indian River School District and the team at Ennis who are working closely with us. 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."

No additional information will be provided on the active tuberculosis case or the individuals who need testing to protect medical privacy, the release stated.

Howard T. Ennis Educational Services are provided to all students (preschool through 21 years old) with significant disabilities within the Indian River School District that demonstrate a need for highly specialized educational support, according to the school website. The school is located on Ennis Road in Georgetown.

While risk of transmission is low, standard medical procedure calls for anyone who has been exposed and becomes infected with tuberculosis to be treated in order to prevent the development of tuberculosis.

Outreach to the individuals who might need testing began on Monday afternoon via phone calls and letters.

“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 in the release. “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."

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

Anyone who might have been exposed to someone with the disease.
People from an area where tuberculosis is common, including but not limited to Eastern Europe, Russia, Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa.
People who work or live in "high-risk" settings, including correctional facilities, long-term care facilities, nursing homes and homeless shelters.
Health care providers who worked with patients at an increased risk for tuberculosis.
Infants, children and adolescents who were exposed to adults who are at an increased risk for latent tuberculosis infection or tuberculosis.
According to the release, tuberculosis cases are on the decline throughout the country, with 9,557 cases nationwide in 2015. But the release said people should still be vigilant.

Delaware had 22 cases of tuberculosis in 2015, 16 in 2016 and 10 to date in 2017, according to the health department.

More health department information on tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is a bacteria that can be breathed into the lungs of others when someone nearby with the active disease coughs, sneeze, sings or laughs, health officials said, and those with tuberculosis are most likely to spread the disease to people they see every day, such as family or other people who live in their house, close friends, and coworkers.

Symptoms of the disease includes a worsening cough that lasts more than two weeks, fatigue, weakness, weight loss, night sweats, fever, chills and chest pain.

According to the release, tuberculosis can impact any organ, however, it is infectious to others only when it occurs in the lungs or voice box.

Most people who are infected with tuberculosis will have a positive tuberculosis test but will never develop symptoms and spread it to other people, and only people with tuberculosis symptoms can spread the disease. The disease cannot be spread through shaking hands, touching, sharing food or beverages, utensils, bed linens, toilet seats, sharing toothbrushes, or saliva from kissing, the release said.

Tuberculosis is treatable and curable, normally taking 6 to 9 months and by taking several medications. Roughly 5 to 10 percent of people infected with tuberculosis will develop the disease in their lifetime, the release said, and most do so within the first two years after infection.

The body is able to fight the disease by stopping the tuberculosis bacteria from growing, the release said. The bacteria can become inactive, however, the can be become active later and remain the body. This is called a latent tuberculosis infection, and those with a latent tuberculosis infection cannot spread the disease to others.

People with latent tuberculosis infection can be treated to ensure the disease does not develop.

For more information on TB, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website.

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