What parents need to know about tuberculosis in Shelby County sc - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

What parents need to know about tuberculosis in Shelby County schools

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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. (FOX13) - A silent but possibly deadly disease in two Shelby County schools has parents on high alert.

The Shelby County Health Department is investigating a possible outbreak of tuberculosis at Wooddale High School. This marks the second time this year a Shelby County school has seen this disease. A case at Frayser High was investigated back in February.

What's alarming is sometimes people show no symptoms at all. A cough lasting for weeks, fatigue, weakness, and sometimes heavy night sweats are all common symptoms of tuberculosis. But TB often occurs in people with weak immune systems, like cancer patients or those with HIV.

So high school kids who tend to have strong immune systems may have it and not even know it because their bodies are holding the disease at bay.

“It is a very serious disease and it can be fatal,” Dr. Michael Whitt of the UT Health & Science Center said.

Tuberculosis has been spotted in two Shelby County schools, but just how worried do parents need to be?

“It's pretty unusual because number one, normally immune-competent people don't get TB, our immune system fights it off, so it is pretty unusual,” Dr. Whitt said.

Whitt said these are the questions parents need to be asking: “Probably need to know the status of the person that was infected, are they no longer at the school? Are they on antibiotics? What other precautions are they taking to ensure that the kids that were exposed have been tested?”

Sometimes people with TB don't show symptoms so the key really is to know if your child was exposed or not, like if they sit in a nearby desk or spoke to the student that has active TB.

While the disease is contagious and can be fatal, there's no need for panic.

“If they're in the same class, they need to be cautious, but I don't believe they need to take the kids out of school,” Dr. Whitt said, “Unless they're in direct contact they really don't need to worry that much, it is concerning, we need to take it seriously.”

If you believe your child is at risk, doctors recommend getting tested right away.

“Absolutely have the kids tested, all the kids with potential exposure should be tested, it's a very easy thing to do,” Dr. Whitt said.

Skin and blood tests will show if you've had exposure to TB and if the disease is active. Antibiotics will treat the disease, but it'll take a while to clear up.

“Oftentimes, they're on antibiotic therapy for six to nine months,” Dr. Whitt said, “If you don't finish your course of antibiotics, there is a chance it can go into a latent state and then re-activate, if left untreated, TB can become fatal so it's important to get tested if your child was directly exposed to the disease.”

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