Catawba County Public Health has identified an individual associated with Arndt Middle School who has contagious tuberculosis (TB). In close collaboration with school officials and staff and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, they are evaluating students and staff to determine who may have been significantly exposed and are offering testing at no charge to those individuals.
Because Public Health has an obligation to protect individuals’ privacy when at all possible and because there is no further risk of exposure from this TB case, they are not disclosing the individual’s identity.
A person with contagious TB disease, which is also known as active TB, can spread the bacteria through the air to people around them who frequently share the same air.
At this time, the entire school has been made aware of this exposure; however, a relatively small number of people are likely to have been significantly exposed, and no one is at immediate risk of any health problems. TB is a disease that generally develops over weeks to months, and it is curable with medications. TB is not immediately life threatening nor an emergency. There is nothing for individuals to do unless they are contacted by Catawba County Public Health and notified of a potential exposure.
Individuals who are determined to be at increased risk are being contacted for testing. In the event that someone else tests positive, that individual will receive further testing and instructions to ensure that they do not develop the active form of TB disease.
“While a communicable disease investigation can be alarming for people who are involved, we want everyone to know that communicable disease investigation is a regular activity for Catawba County Public Health staff. The current investigation is a classic example of TB exposure investigation and is an important step in helping prevent the spread of TB in our community,” said Catawba County Public Health Director Jennifer McCracken.
Anyone can get TB germs. When someone with active TB in their lungs coughs, sneezes, or talks, they can spray TB germs into the air. Anyone close to that person can breathe in this air and get the TB germs in their body. The most common way to become infected with TB bacteria is by spending a lot of time with a person who has active TB. TB is rarely spread to persons who spend a small amount of time with an active case of TB.
A person can also be infected with TB for months or years without symptoms and some of these individuals never develop symptoms. This is called latent TB. Because latent TB can become active later, it is still important to identify and treat these infections. Cases of active TB are sometimes difficult to diagnose because some of the key symptoms, like fever and coughing, are similar to other, more common, diseases. People with active TB disease may cough a lot, feel weak, have a fever, lose weight, cough up blood, or have night sweats. People with latent TB have the bacteria in their bodies, but they are not sick because the bacteria is inactive. They cannot spread the TB bacteria to others. About one out of ten people with TB infection becomes sick with TB disease. Only people with cases of active TB are able to spread it to others.
While TB is relatively uncommon in the United States, it is more common in some other parts of the world. There were approximately 8,300 reported TB cases in the United States in 2022, and there are up to 13 million people in the United States estimated to be living with latent TB infection. TB case counts have steadily decreased in the United States since 1992, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2022, Catawba County had four reported cases of active TB, which is about the average number per year.
More information on TB: https://www.cdc.gov/tb/publications/factsheets/general/tb.htm