More than 200 potentially exposed to tuberculosis at NC high school

DURHAM, N.C.  – More than 200 students have potentially been exposed to tuberculosis at Durham’s Northern High, Durham Public Schools says.

A case of pulmonary tuberculosis was found Oct. 11 in a student attending Northern High School. That student has not returned to school since testing positive.

“We do know that there have been students who have been exposed,” said Arlene Sena, the medical director with Durham County’s Department of Public Health. “That’s why we’re going to go ahead and do the evaluation to test and ask the students who’ve been exposed for any signs or symptoms.”

Officials found out on Oct. 11 that one student had an active tuberculosis infection. A total of 266 people, including students and staff might have been exposed, officials said. Parents found out when letters went out five days later.

Letters went to every parent of a student at Northern, and more than 200 more-specific letters went out to families of students identified as potentially having been exposed to the disease.

Tuberculosis is spread by people coughing, speaking, sneezing or doing similar things, and confined spaces such as classrooms can increase the risk of exposure. The disease is treatable, but can be fatal if left untreated.

Sena said the five-day gap between the discovery of the case and letters going out was justified.

“Actually, there was no delay, because what we had to do was consult with the school,” said Sena. “Basically, they had to determine the contacts. We initiated the investigation immediately after we learned of the case and so the letters were just, we had to determine who the letters had to go out to.”

Blood testing for those who might have been exposed will happen this week. Another round of testing will be necessary eight weeks later.

“The student and staff testing tomorrow are doing so simply out of an abundance of caution. Anyone who tests positive will receive treatment paid for by the county. There is no need for a deep clean of the school as the germ does not live outside the body for very long,” DPS said in a release. “Experts state that most people who are exposed will not develop active disease.”