Public health responds to tuberculosis exposure at Eagle Valley High School
It is not considered a health emergency and there is no current ongoing risk for exposure at the school
Eagle County Public Health and Environment is responding to an exposure to tuberculosis at Eagle Valley High School.
The county department first learned about the potential for tuberculosis exposure at the school last week and began gathering information to “confirm and understand the scope of exposures,” according to Becky Larson, the county’s epidemiologist and deputy director of public health.
“Currently, there is no ongoing risk for TB exposure at the school. It is safe for students and staff to attend school and participate in school activities as usual,” Larson said.
“We do want to ensure a thorough response to determine if anyone exposed has become infected and then treat them to prevent sickness from developing and further spread. This is not a widespread community concern and all ongoing activities at the school are considered safe and should continue as usual,” she added.
Larson clarified that the current exposure in Gypsum is just that: an exposure, and is not an outbreak, which she added “will take time to fully investigate and follow-up with testing and treatment.”
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“A full response after a TB exposure will typically take a minimum of 8 to 10 weeks given the bacterium grows so slowly. For this reason, we don’t view this as an emergency,” Larson added.
The high school’s staff, students and parents were notified of the potential exposure on Wednesday, March 29. Now, the department and school will work to contact the staff, students and families who have a known exposure.
According to Larson, while the investigation is still ongoing and it expects to continue to “identify people that have been exposed,” public health estimates that approximately 150 people have had a potential exposure.
“People that have not been exposed, are not at risk for being infected and do not need to be tested,” Larson added.
The county department is working closely with the school district on its response, which will include — after contacting those that have been exposed — testing those individuals who have been exposed and providing treatment for those that test positive.
Larson said that those infected with tuberculosis can take medications that “will prevent sickness from developing in people that have not developed symptoms.”
“In addition, treatment will prevent additional spread and will clear infection for people that have symptoms,” she added.
Tuberculosis is “a disease caused by a bacterium that is spread between people through the air, and typically takes several hours of exposure for a person to be at risk of becoming infected,” Larson said, adding that while the primary impact is to the lungs, it can affect other parts of the body.
Eagle County Public Health and the Environment provided the following information about the disease:
- Most people who are exposed to TB do not get infected
- People who are infected cannot give TB to others unless they are sick with symptoms
- People who have been exposed cannot give TB to others
- Typical symptoms of TB are a chronic cough, fever or night sweats that are persistent for several weeks and usually get worse
- A person who is infected with TB, but is not sick, can be treated to eliminate the infection to prevent them from getting sick in the future
General symptoms include feeling sick or weak, weight loss, fever, chills and night sweats. For those that become infected, they may also include a cough, chest pain and/or coughing up blood.
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