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Southport High officials, parents take steps after tuberculosis scare

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Leaders at Southport High School in Indianapolis said some students and staff have been exposed to tuberculosis, but testing will be free on April 28.

Principal Barbara Brouwer sent out automated phone messages to families Wednesday. She said a select group of students and staff were exposed to TB by an SHS student.

School officials said that those people affected have been contacted directly by the school.

Leaders said they arranged a clinic for testing for only the students who may have been exposed at the high school. The clinic will run from 2:30 p.m – 7 p.m.

Officials have not yet said how many people may have been exposed.

Students and parents who have questions can call the Nursing Supervisor, Esther L. Moeller, at 317-789-3789. They also can contact the Marion County Public Health Department.

Parents and some students are still nervous, and parent Steve Todd told his son to stay home today just to be on the safe side.

“I think it’s pretty crazy kids having to go through this and teachers also,” said Todd’s son Steven. “It’s kind of crazy.”

Officials from the Marion County Health Department said they are working to make sure everyone is informed correctly because when uncommon diseases like tuberculosis are found locally, fear often follows.

Dr. Jeffery Jones with Franciscan St. Francis Health, has studied tuberculosis for years and said if someone breathes in the virus they most likely will not be infected.

“One might breathe it in. Most people don’t develop the disease, but they do get infected not every time but if you breathe in the right kind of particle, so it’s a respiratory type of infection,” said Dr. Jones.

The infectious particles can lay dormant in the body, but aren’t harmful if treated properly.Dr Jones said there is nothing for parents to worry about yet.

“The main thing I would say to people is don’t get excited,” said Jones. “This is something that probably nothing is going to come out of it but if it does then it’s a manageable disease you can treat it.”

School officials said if students haven’t received information that they are in the select group who may have been exposed, they can go to the Marion County Public Health Department with their student ID to receive a test for free, or to their personal doctor.

According to the CDC, some signs of active TB include fever, night sweats, unintentional weight loss and a cough that lasts several weeks. TB can spread from person to person through the air. It usually affects the lungs, but it can affect other parts of the body as well. It can be fatal if people do not receive treatment.

The CDC said the disease can be treated with several drugs, but they must be taken for six to nine months.

The FDA has approved 10 drugs for treating TB, and it is important for those with TB to finish the prescribed medication. If drug use is stopped too soon, patients could become sick again.

Although the vaccine Bacille Calmette-Guérin is not widely used in the U.S., it is often given to infants and young children in countries were TB is more common, according to the CDC. BCG should only be considered in the U.S. for very select people that meet the criteria. 

Cases of TB in the 1900s killed one out of seven people in the U.S. and Europe, according to the CDC. In the 1940s the drugs used to treat TB today were discovered causing the number of cases to decline. In the 1970 to the early 80s cases spiked again, but the CDC says they have been on the decline since 1993. The CDC says cases in the U.S. are more likely in correctional facilities, among the homeless and children under 15 years old.

For more information from the CDC, click here.