Confirmed case of tuberculosis in HS student

February 24, 2009 4:08:26 PM PST
Hundreds of students, teachers and staff will face testing after a student at HISD's Reagan High School contracted tuberculosis.[SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

After several days of speculation, there is some relief for this northwest Houston school community. They've learned that the boy who has tuberculosis is getting treatment, and students are finding out the risk of actually contracting TB is very low.

"A lot of the parents and teachers and students they've been concerned, trying to figure out who it is," said one student.

City of Houston health officials won't publically release a name, but they say a male student at Reagan High School has been diagnosed with active tuberculosis. For now that that student is out of school and receiving treatment. Meanwhile, the health department is working to identify which students, teachers and staff had close contact with the boy.

Kathy Barton with the City of Houston Health Department said, "We have visited with the staff there and with his family and friends, and we have identified about 300 people that we think need to be tested for exposure."

That will happen in about two weeks. The 300 people health workers will test at Reagan HS face the greatest risk but the likelihood of infection is still very low. Even though TB is an airborne illness, it is not highly communicable, even in a setting like a class room.

"We typically think of communication of this disease in a family setting, or a very intimate setting, where you have close face to face contact over a prolonged period of time."

Classic symptoms include chronic cough, blood in saliva, fever, night sweats and weight loss. For students who had just casual contact with the infected boy, there is little risk of exposure, which brings many in the Heights area school relief.

A student said, "I think if it was, like, anything more serious than what it is, I think the school would, like, advise us and let us know what's going on."

The boy with active tuberculosis is out of school and receiving treatment. He will return to class when he is healthy enough to do so and no longer contagious. There are about 200 confirmed cases of active tuberculosis in Houston every year. The city of Houston's aggressive treatment programs are credited with keeping that number low.

Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria that usually attacks the lungs. TB is spread through the air from one person to another. However, not everyone infected with the bacteria becomes sick. The student at Reagan has active tuberculosis. Someone can have a latent TB infection -- in which the bacteria is in their system for months, even years, and they never get sick. Tuberculosis can be fatal if not treated properly. Learn more about tuberculosis from the Centers for Disease Control.

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