Local News

Three day care students under observation in TB scare

Posted June 3, 2009 9:47 a.m. EDT
Updated June 3, 2009 5:33 p.m. EDT

— A substitute teacher at a Fayetteville day care has tested positive for tuberculosis, and three children are under observation to determine if they have contracted the contagious respiratory disease, public health officials said Wednesday.

Skin tests and chest X-rays were administered Friday to at least 140 children and staff members at Highland Learning Center to determine if they had been exposed to TB.

Officials said Tuesday that all skin test results were negative, but several people went to Cape Fear Valley Hospital after abnormalities were noticed on their X-rays, officials said. Three children are undergoing three days of extensive testing, officials said, while other patients were checked out and sent home.

"The three children have shown general symptoms that could be a wide variety of potential illness," hospital spokesman Clinton Weaver said.

The children were placed in negative-pressure rooms to reduce the possible spread of infection, and they are undergoing a procedure called gastric washing in which a tube is placed in the stomach daily for three days.

Although none of the children or staff members has displayed any symptoms of TB, Cumberland County Health Director Dr. Lan Tran-Phu said officials aren't taking any chances.

Medication has been prescribed for every child at the center as a precaution, and a nurse will administer the medicine over the next eight weeks. Parents can opt out of the treatment schedule.

Officials will test the children and staff members again in eight weeks.

"Since we are dealing with very young children and since their immune systems are still very vulnerable, we are taking all precautions possible," Tran-Phu said.

Parents also have been asked to look for TB symptoms, including prolonged coughing, fever, weight loss and fatigue.

TB is an airborne respiratory disease that is transmitted when an infected person speaks, coughs or sneezes. Exposure doesn't guarantee infection. A person can contract TB and be symptom-free. These cases, called inactive, are not contagious, but inactive TB can become active at a later date.

The most common treatment for the disease is a course of antibiotics.

The county health department also is trying to determine how the teacher contracted the disease.

The teacher, whose name hasn't been released, began work at the day care center in September and tested negative for TB as part of pre-employment screening, said Amy Williams, assistant director of the center, which is affiliated with Highland Presbyterian Church.

In May, the teacher appeared to have a cold or allergies, Williams said. The teacher's last day at the center was May 19, she said.

No parents have withdrawn their children from the center, Williams said, adding that administrators are trying to keep operations as normal as possible.