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Tuberculosis Testing Under Way at Watkins Mill High School

More than 100 Watkins Mill High School students and staff members are undergoing tuberculosis testing after they may have been exposed to the disease.

Watkins Mill High School in Gaithersburg. File|Patch
Watkins Mill High School in Gaithersburg. File|Patch

More than 100 students and staff members at Watkins Mill High School in Montgomery County will undergo tuberculosis testing today as a followup to someone in the building who was treated for the disease earlier in the year.

Parents of Watkins Mill High School students received a letter Feb. 6 warning them that someone in the building between October and January had tuberculosis, so testing for students might be warranted.

Tuesday’s screening follows a waiting period of eight to 10 weeks, which allows any infection to be detectable, The Washington Post says. The risk of infection to students and staff at the school is small, officials said.

The unidentified person who carried the infectious lung disease was at Watkins Mill High School between October 2013 and January 2014 and was treated in February, WJLA reports. School officials haven’t said if the sick individual is a student or staffer.

The letter to parents says a healthy person cannot contract the disease by casual contact such as sitting in a cafeteria for an hour or passing in the hall. While the risk of exposure is low, public health officials have recommended testing for students and staff members who were in classes or after-school activity during the months in question.

Those unable to attend the screening can be tested at a county health center or by private physicians, the newspaper said. A positive test result requires a chest X-ray, but it only indicates exposure at some point, not active disease. All X-rays and treatment are free at the county’s Dennis Avenue center, officials said.

Tuberculosis is a contagious illness can affect a person's lungs, brain, kidneys and spine, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It can be fatal and is spread through the air, such as when a person coughs or sneezes. It is treatable with medications.

In 2010, Montgomery County accounted for almost one-third of all the TB cases in the state, WTOP said.

The Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Servicesencourages people with symptoms of TB to call the county's TB clinic at 240-777-1794.

Symptoms of tuberculosis are: cough for more than three weeks; fever or chills for more than three weeks; night sweats; unexplained weight loss of 10 pounds or more; or if an individual has had tuberculosis or been treated for the disease, or coughs up blood, the department says.

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