Contagious Tuberculosis at St. Louis Park High School

The disease is rare in the United States

A recent case of contagious tuberculosis may have exposed students and teachers at St. Louis Park High School to the disease, according the The Echo, the student run news site of the high school.

According to The Echo, on January 11th, school superintendent Rob Metz said in a phone message to families of St. Louis Park High School that the Hennepin County Department of Health informed the school that last fall an individual at the high school was in the building while contagious with active tuberculosis.

A press release from Superintendent Metz stated, “In late November, the school district was notified by the Hennepin County Department of Health that an individual at the high school had been diagnosed with active Tuberculosis (TB).  By the time we were notified, the individual was receiving medical care and posed no further risk or exposure to the school.”

The school district did not identify if the infected individual is a student or a teacher.  The school has approximately 1,400 students.

Metz explained the delay of informing families of the potential exposure to the disease in the press release, “…in September, October, and November, before the Tuberculosis diagnosis had been determined, the individual was in the school building while contagious.  Because of this, the Hennepin County Department Health will test students and staff who may have had close contact with the contagious individual.  The Tuberculosis experts at the Hennepin County Department of Health asked us to wait to communicate this information and arrange for the testing until they could determine who needed to be tested.  In addition, they informed us that it takes several months for a new case of Tuberculosis to become identifiable by their testing.”

According to Metz, the Hennepin County Department of Health will test any person who had close contact with the individual and for convenience, testing will be offered at the high school during the school day on January 30 and January 31.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) website states that tuberculosis is spread through the air.  The tuberculosis bacteria are released into the air whenever an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks or sings.  If someone is nearby, they may breathe in the bacteria and become infected.

According to the Mayo Clinic, tuberculosis is rare, with fewer than 200,000 cases diagnosed in the United States per year.  It is treatable by a medical professional and can be resolved within months.

In October 2016, Alpha News reported that the number of active TB infections in refugees living in Minnesota between 2010 and 2014 is ten times higher than any other state.

The Mayo Clinic states that many strains of tuberculosis resist the drugs most used to treat the disease and that people with active tuberculosis must take several types of medications for many months to eradicate the infection and prevent development of antibiotic resistance.

Donna Azarian