TAMPA — About 250 students and staff members at Armwood High School learned Tuesday they will need testing for tuberculosis, after being exposed to a 17-year-old girl at the school who is infected.
Health officials say there is no need to close the school. Unlike swine flu, tuberculosis is spread through prolonged exposure to someone who is coughing TB germs into the air.
"Tuberculosis is contagious, but it is not highly contagious, and certainly much, much less so than influenza," said Dr. Doug Holt, director of the Hillsborough County Health Department.
Authorities say the 17-year-old likely contracted the disease from a relative living outside the United States. She is receiving treatment and considered at "low risk" to spread TB. She is not currently at the school, which is in Seffner.
Still, health officials plan to conduct skin testing Monday on the 250 people who were potentially exposed. They will hold a meeting at Armwood today at 5 p.m. to explain the situation to families.
Three days after the skin test, which involves injecting a small amount of fluid under the skin, everyone will be examined. Those who test negative for TB will be retested in two to three months.
Those who test positive will begin a nine-month course of treatment, which requires patients to take a pill each day. The Health Department will provide the medication at no cost.
Between 5 and 10 percent of the nation's population has tuberculosis, according to health officials, but many never develop active infections. Each year, Hillsborough has about 80 to 90 cases, health officials said.
Active tuberculosis germs usually attack the lungs, but they can affect the brain, the kidneys or the spine. A person can die if he does not get treatment, but the TB rate is declining in the United States, and deaths are now very rare, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Letitia Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3322. For more health news, visit www.tampabay.com/health.