- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Students and staff at three Montgomery County public schools will be tested for tuberculosis after officials identified the disease in two students attending schools in Silver Spring.

Both of the infected students, who are not related, have been staying out of school during treatment and are no longer contagious, school officials said.

Administrators sent letters Monday to parents of students at Glenallen Elementary School, Kemp Mill Elementary School, and E. Brooke Lee Middle School alerting them about the testing.

“We sent letters to the students and staff we felt were most at risk, not the whole school,” said Mary Anderson, spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services.

School officials said one of the children was enrolled in Glenallen Elementary before transferring to Kemp Mill Elementary. The other child went to Lee Middle School.

Students from Glenallen and Kemp Mill go on to middle school at Lee.

Mrs. Anderson would not say how long the children attended the schools or when administrators discovered they were infected.

She said students most at risk are those who were in close contact with the infected students over a concentrated period of time, through classroom activities or bus rides.

“If you and I were sharing a seat on the Metro and I coughed on you once, you wouldn’t get TB, but if you and I were riding the Metro every day together and every day I coughed on you, you could get TB,” Mrs. Anderson said.

County health officials are providing free skin tests on Tuesday and encouraging those who were in close contact with the infected students to be tested.

“We recommend that testing be done for students and staff that were in close contact, but the testing is open to anyone,” said Brian Edwards, a Montgomery County public schools spokesman. “The safety and welfare of the students comes first.”

A skin test, also called a Mantoux test, involves injecting a purified protein derivative, or PPD, under the skin. Because the tuberculosis bacterium grows slowly and has a long incubation period, a second skin test usually is given eight to 12 weeks later.

Students who do not test positive after the first test will be given a clearance card, but they still will be given a second skin test.

Dr. Ulder J. Tillman, the county’s health officer, said it is unlikely that officials are facing a large outbreak.

“A healthy person cannot contract TB by passing an infected individual in a hallway or sitting in a cafeteria with them for an hour,” he said. “It usually takes a minimum of several hours of close contact in a small room for TB transmission to occur.”

He said the airspace is contagious only when the untreated patient is present. After the patient leaves, the TB organisms dissipate to negligible numbers.

Tuberculosis is much less contagious than more common school illnesses, such as colds, the flu or strep throat. In Maryland, active tuberculosis — cases of tuberculosis that result in an illness — occurs in one out of every 16,000 residents per year.

Symptoms of tuberculosis — lingering cough, chills and loss of appetite — may not appear right away, which is why health officials urge students to be tested.

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