NORTH LEWISBURG – A person associated with Triad Elementary has been diagnosed with tuberculosis, according to a press release.
The school district cannot speak about the patient’s role at the school, Triad Superintendent Chris Piper said Friday. He said he was made aware of the illness Wednesday.
Tuberculosis is a rare but serious disease that usually affects the lungs. It is contagious and can be spread to others, especially people with whom the patient spends time every day. The risk of transmission is low and almost all cases are curable with medication.
Tuberculosis is spread through the air by close, prolonged contact when a person coughs, speaks, laughs or sings. It is not transmitted by casual contact or contact with surfaces. Piper said no special cleaning needs to be done at the buildings because it is only spread through direct contact with a person with communicable tuberculosis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website states the general symptoms of the disease include feelings of sickness or weakness, weight loss, fever and night sweats. The symptoms of TB disease of the lungs also include coughing, chest pain and the coughing up of blood. Symptoms of TB disease in other parts of the body depend on the area affected.
Champaign Health District Health Commissioner Jeff Webb said the health district received a call Monday morning from the Ohio Department of Health about the case. At that point, they did not have confirmation of a case.
On Friday morning, Webb said the health district’s infectious disease nurse and epidemiologist were investigating how the disease was contracted.
School told only one person infected
Piper said he did not know why it took two days for his staff to be notified. He said he was assured by health district officials there is only one infected person and that the person was in the elementary school. Postings on Facebook alleged others at other schools in the district had with the disease. Piper refuted that.
“It is unfortunate that people are talking on Facebook and spreading false information rather than seeking out what is accurate,” he said. “I can’t say anything about the patient, but I can say that there was and is no risk at our high school or middle school.”
The health district cannot release much information about the person infected, due to the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
“All we can say is that there was somebody there at the school that had active TB and there were some people that were exposed to an active TB case,” Webb said. “We’ve been following up with the family of that active TB (case) and then next week we were going to potentially TB test the whole school. There’s a certain number of people that were more at risk because they were around that person for an extended period of time so we definitely want to TB test them.”
The patient’s family was tested and the results came back negative.
Webb said the health district has made plans to test all of the children if needed. He noted a school is a place where a lot of people could potentially be exposed.
“You’ve got a large number of people in a building that are in close proximity to that person for long periods of time,” Webb said. “That obviously increases your exposure, so several people can be exposed to that individual.”
Champaign County Director of Nursing Karla Green said a high-risk population for the disease would be a jail, prison, homeless shelter or a country in which tuberculosis is more rampant.
“The misconceptions are you can get it from touching the desktop if somebody touched that desktop or you can get it from the toilet or from that person’s clothes,” Green said. “It’s an airborne disease and if that germ is in the air you have to inhale that germ to get it. It’s a lung disease.”
Letter sent to parents
A letter sent to Triad Elementary parents and posted on Triad’s website indicates students and staff in grades three and four “likely had no contact with the infected person.” But, “there is an increased likelihood that students and staff in preschool through second grade may have had contact.”
The letter goes on to state, “Although the infected person is no longer in our school, to protect the health of our students and staff, Triad Elementary School is working closely with Champaign Health District to offer TB skin tests to all students and staff free of charge.”
Triad staff and teachers must have a written affidavit stating they are free from communicable tuberculosis for initial employment at the district, Piper said.
The Champaign Health District will provide skin testing to all Triad Elementary staff and students Tuesday, May 17, and Wednesday, May 18. The health district will hold a tuberculosis testing clinic at its offices 4-8 p.m. Wednesday.
The skin test is safe, painless and effective in identifying individuals who may be at increased risk for tuberculosis illness, Triad’s press release states.
Webb said the disease is rare, especially in the local area. In 2015, Webb said, there were no tuberculosis cases here, and the last reported case was in 2012 but the health district was not sure if the case was active or latent.
Green said for individuals considered to be in primary contact with the person, the health district performs another TB skin test eight weeks later.
The health district is working with Triad Elementary and the Ohio Department of Health to manage this infection and prevent its spread. For more information on tuberculosis, visit www.cdc.gov/tb/ or www.odh.ohio.gov/odhprograms/bid/tcont/GenTBinfo.aspx . For more information, call the health district at 937-484-1605.
Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.
Nick Walton may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1777 or on Twitter @UDCWalton.