Local News

Health department testing more than 200 potentially exposed to TB at Durham school

Posted October 19, 2017 12:24 p.m. EDT
Updated October 19, 2017 4:31 p.m. EDT

— The health department on Thursday was conducting evaluations and blood tests after hundreds of students and staff members were potentially exposed to tuberculosis at a Durham high school.

Arlena Sena, medical director of the Durham County Health Department, said more than 200 students and staff members at Northern High School were potentially exposed to the disease by a student who was diagnosed last week.

Health department officials said the student was diagnosed on Oct. 11 and is currently isolated at home until he or she is no longer contagious.

A tent was set up outside the school Thursday morning to conduct initial evaluations on those who may have had contact with the student, putting them at risk for tuberculosis.

“Typically, in the past, there’s a skin test that requires someone to return back to the clinic for a reading two to three days later. So, the blood test is more sensitive and is actually easier than individuals having to return for the skin test results,” Sena said.

Symptoms of tuberculosis, which is spread through the air, include coughing, fever, chills and fatigue.

Duke University tuberculosis expert Tony Moody said the disease can up to a month for symptoms to emerge. Moody says anyone with a persistent cough for more than two weeks who suffers from fevers and weight loss should seek medical attention.

"I'm sure TB creates some fear in individuals because they're not familiar with it, however, it's still an uncommon infection," Sena said.

Sena said tuberculosis is easily treatable and curable, especially for people who are otherwise healthy.

Though the county has taken action, the news is still unsettling for Peggy Bower, whose granddaughter is a junior at the school.

"If one of those kids comes up positive, then there's a whole group of children that are going to have to be tested," she said. "I'd like for every one of these kids to come up negative, but I'm afraid that's not going to happen."

A student at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill was also diagnosed with the disease last week.