AUBURN – An unknown number of students and staff at Edward Little High School tested positive for tuberculosis this week, but “it may mean nothing,” said Dr. Dora Mills, director of Maine’s Bureau of Health.
About 125 students and staff were screened for the disease Thursday and Friday, said Principal Jim Miller. The tests were ordered when officials learned April 26 that one student had an active case of tuberculosis. That student is not in school and is being treated.
Mills cautioned that the results may be meaningless. Screening positive does not mean you have TB, she said.
She declined to give a number of how many tested positive in the screening.
It’s premature to say whether anyone other than the one student who came down with TB last month has the disease, Mills said. The screening is the first step, and must be followed up with more tests, including chest X-rays and physical examinations.
People who test positive in screenings may be put on antibiotics, depending on the circumstance, Mills said.
To parents and community members worried about TB, she stressed that the disease is curable and treatable.
She explained that there are two kinds of tuberculosis: latent and active. An active case is more serious, involves coughing and is contagious. Latent is not contagious and is easier to treat, she said. “Latent means you’ve been exposed,” Mills said.
However, latent TB needs to be treated or it can turn into active TB.
Those screened Thursday and Friday were students and staff that shared classes or rode the bus with the infected student, Principal Miller said. “Those who had close, prolonged contact,” he said.
More people will be screened on Tuesday, Miller said. The infected student’s family and friends also have been screened, he said.
All who were tested will be re-screened in eight weeks, Mills said. Repeat screenings are done because sometimes initial results can be faulty, or the disease can take longer to develop.
TB can be either a bacterial or viral disease that affects the lungs. It spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes, sending germs into the air. Typically, a person can get tuberculosis only when in prolonged, close contact with the infected person.
TB has been re-emerging across the United States and in recent years it has shown up in Maine, Mills said.
There have been several dozen outbreaks, some in homeless shelters and jails, and others in middle-class communities, she said. There was a case of active TB in the Portland schools a few years ago, but active cases are not common in Maine.
Miller said he’s worked at Edward Little for more than 30 years and this is the first time he’s been aware of a case at the school.