Most people who are exposed to someone with TB disease (active TB) do not become infected with TB bacteria and do not develop either latent, or active TB.

This week the Division of Public Health announced that we are working with Georgetown Elementary School in Georgetown and the Indian River School District to investigate the potential exposure of approximately 50 individuals at the school to someone with active tuberculosis.

We understand that hearing such information can cause significant concern, which is why we worked with the school to notify staff as well as families of our efforts to identify those who may be affected and the need for those persons to get tested.

We held an educational session for staff and sent home letters to families of all students in the school with information on TB. Understandably, we and the school continue to receive calls from concerned staff and families, which provides us with an opportunity to continue educating them on the facts of the disease. Education is an ongoing process and as we are hearing that there is still misinformation circulating. I wanted to take this opportunity to provide additional context and information.

Here is what we want you to know most about TB:

The risk for contracting TB from potential exposure to someone with "active" TB in this incidence is low, but that’s also why testing is so important, so we can determine this definitively. You can only get TB from someone with the "active" form who is coughing or breathing directly on you. TB is not easily transmittable to the general public. People with TB disease are most likely to spread the disease to people they have close contact with every day, such as family or other household members, close friends and coworkers. You cannot get TB from sharing utensils, holding hands, kissing or touching someone. DPH is working closely with the school and all individuals who would be considered at higher risk for exposure have been notified. If your family hasn’t received notification, you are not considered to be at risk and should not be concerned at this point. TB is treatable and curable with medication.

TB is a bacteria that can be inhaled into the lungs when a nearby person with an active form of the disease coughs (known as TB disease or active TB), sneezes, sings or laughs. If you test positive for TB, it does not automatically mean you can spread the disease to other people. There are two forms of TB. One is “latent TB,” where the germ is “asleep” in the body. A person with latent TB is not considered sick and cannot spread the germs to others. Medication is provided to kill the “sleeping” germ so the person does not develop symptoms and become sick with TB disease in the future.

The second form is “active TB disease,” in which the TB germ has made the person sick, and they may display symptoms such as a progressively worsening cough that lasts more than two weeks, fatigue, unexplained weight loss and night sweats. Left untreated, this can result in serious illness. Medication is available to kill the germs in the active form of TB and cure the patient.

Most people who are exposed to someone with TB disease (active TB) do not become infected with TB bacteria and do not develop either latent, or active TB.

Natural curiosity has had people asking for more information about the identity of the source of the exposure, and many people are making assumptions about this individual.

While our communication efforts have detailed how we’ve been working with the school to inform staff and families of our investigation, we have not provided any details about the source of the infection. Delaware has extremely strict confidentiality statutes specific to TB beyond what general HIPPA statutes cover: http://delcode.delaware.gov/title16/c005/sc02/index.shtml.

DPH has not and will not disclose or confirm whether the source is a student, staff member, contractor or even volunteer, and certainly not information regarding race, age, gender or ethnicity. It is our duty to protect each individual’s medical privacy and follow the state and federal statutes that prohibit the release of that information.

Additionally, it has come to our attention that discussions and statements on local media and in the community are suggesting that this is somehow related to immigration, or the town’s diverse population. It is not. TB can happen to anyone, anywhere. While the disease is on the decline in this country and in this state, it still occurs. To that point, we announced a large scale TB investigation in May related to a long-term care facility in New Castle County, where over 600 people were potentially exposed to someone with active TB. So you can see that the disease can impact individuals across the lifespan, and individuals of all races. So we encourage members of the community not to make assumptions and to unite in support of one another.

What can you do as an individual? Even if you’ve had a negative TB test in the past (for employment or school), if you are exposed to someone with active TB afterwards, you may become infected and not know it. Those with latent TB may carry the infection for years, and it may remain dormant. In 5 to 10 percent of persons infected with TB bacteria (latent TB), it will become active at some time in their lives; most within the first two years after the infection occurs. Therefore, you may be screened for TB as part of your annual visit to your physician. Remember, TB is treatable and curable with medication.

We want to reassure everyone that DPH is working closely with school officials to identify and test everyone who may need it. Monitoring TB cases is part of what our clinic staff statewide, does, and they are well trained, compassionate individuals. We encourage anyone with questions about TB to call our TB Elimination program at 302- 744-1050 or visit https://dhss.delaware.gov/dph/dpc/tbelimination.html.