An investigation is underway at the in Arnold, where a school worker tested positive for active tuberculosis (TB) in February.
The Anne Arundel County Department of Health is investigating the case, and some students and staff at the private elementary school have tested positive for TB exposure on a skin test performed either by the health department or a private physician.
The school's gymnasium is the central location of the health department's contact investigation, said Dr. Kelly Sipe Russo, deputy health officer of the Anne Arundel County Department of Health.
Russo said the investigative process is “dynamic, methodical and deliberate,” when zeroing in on the contact points of the carrier. She said the circle of contact focuses on duration, frequency and proximity.
Russo met with Chesapeake Academy parents at the school on a Saturday a few weeks ago to answer questions about the disease and the investigation.
Fewer than 10 students and staff at the school have tested positive on a TB skin test, which can take up to eight weeks for results. The skin testing began in February.
Russo said there is a 15 percent false-positive rate on skin tests. If one tests positive, the next step is a blood test. The more recent skin tests have all come back negative, she said.
"Generally when someone tests positive on a skin or blood test, we assume that the person has been infected with TB," Russo said.
If a skin test is positive, medications are offered "no matter what," as standard procedure to prevent the disease from becoming active, Russo said. Skin and blood tests are the best TB tests available, according to Russo.
She said if a chest X-ray shows no active TB, it's then considered latent.
Jay Scheurle, head of school at Chesapeake Academy, sent a prepared statement to Patch pertaining to the investigation.
“From the moment the school became aware that a part-time employee was diagnosed with tuberculosis and the Health Department began their investigation, the school followed the recommendations and lead of the county and state medical experts.
"We asked the question, 'Was this in the best interests of the children,' and we were assured that it was. We supported the process and followed the advice of the medical experts who were in charge of the investigation and who had dealt with this problem in other schools and organizations in Maryland," Scheurle wrote.
A letter was sent home to parents of the school’s boys and girls basketball teams on May 7 letting them know that they would be contacted by the health department.
There have been no reports of tuberculosis in county public schools, according to Bob Mosier, Anne Arundel County Public Schools spokesman.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, TB is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria usually attacks the lungs, but TB bacteria can attack any part of the body—such as the kidney, spine and brain. If not treated properly, TB can be fatal.
TB is spread through the air from one person to another. The bacteria are put into the air when a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes or speaks. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected.
TB is not spread by shaking someone’s hand, sharing food or drink, touching bed linens or toilet seats, sharing toothbrushes or kissing.
The CDC states that taking several drugs, usually for six to nine months, can treat TB.
The health department's investigation is ongoing.