The Onondaga County Health Department is preparing to test about 100 people at Fowler High School Friday who may have come into close contact with someone who has an active case of Tuberculosis. Officials say, however, there’s virtually no risk of exposure to the general public.
County health officials say the person has been ill for several weeks and often returned to school. The person was ultimately hospitalized with pneumonia, and diagnosed with TB. Health commissioner Dr. Indu Gupta says her office was informed, and they’ve launched their investigation.
"Whether it's family, friends, social connections, we trace the whole path, and we find every individual who may have been exposed. Not everyone will have had the same exposure, so we will end up testing a finite number of people."
She says consent forms for the TB skin test are being sent out to about 100 select faculty, staff, and students. But county medical director Dr. Quoc Nguyen says the criteria for exposure go beyond casual contact.
"You have to be in the same airspace that's not well-ventilated for hours. Even if you are in the same cafeteria with this person eating your lunch, the risk is almost zero. So, people in the community are not at risk at all."
In fact, only about five to 10 percent of those exposed actually develop Tuberculosis. TB is an airborne, bacterial infection spread when a person coughs, speaks, laughs, sings, or sneezes into the air and the germs are inhaled by others. Symptoms include a persistent cough, feeling weak or tired, weight loss, and low grade fever. Active TB can be treated and cured by antibiotics, but Dr. Gupta says recovery is a week’s long process. She says TB is not spread by shaking hands, sharing food or drink, or even sharing a toothbrush…unlike other illnesses that might be going around.
"You are in the season where people get the common cold, pneumonia, flu..there are many causes of coughing and sneezing. At the same time, we are very cognizant of this concern because we have an active case of TB. That's the biggest reason for testing, but it should not be thrown out to everyone."
Gupta says that’s why they’re zeroing in on about 100 people. She’s urging parents to sign and return the consent form in order for the county to conduct testing Friday at Fowler. Officials are not disclosing the identity of the infected person, or even if it's a student or faculty member. They say the protection is needed so those who were exposed feel comfortable coming forward for testing.