Austin HS student diagnosed with tuberculosis

Published 9:10 am Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Austin Public Schools District notified parents last Friday about an Austin High School student who was diagnosed with active pulmonary tuberculosis disease.

Administration from the high school as well as Mower County Public Health were working together to ensure students and staff were protected.

“Although this is a unique situation for our school, local public health departments in Minnesota have dealt with similar situations on many occasions,” the district’s message to parents reads. “We will continue to partner with Mower County Public Health and follow their guidelines to ensure the safety of our students and staff members.”

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There was no further risk of exposure at the school, and the individual student was being treated for TB. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has been working closely with Mower County Public Health in investigating the tuberculosis case.

“We’ve been working with Mower County and working closely with Austin High School administration to determine who may have had exposure and was considered to have close, prolonged contact with the person who had the TB infection,” said Doug Schultz, MDH information officer. “Right now, approximately 50 people are in that particular circle. If any of those people turn up positive for latent TB, then that circle may expand. Typically, this would be the average number in this type of TB exposure.”

Schultz stated that for TB cases, it would be difficult to identify individuals with TB, as symptoms resemble a cold or a respiratory illness and a doctor could misdiagnose a patient with TB.

“As soon as someone is diagnosed with TB, the response is fairly quick for getting the person on treatment and notifying close contacts,” he added. “It’s not unusual to identify the group of close contacts, and none show up positive for TB. We don’t say that happens here, but we’ve had situations like that happen before.”

MDH emphasized that there is currently no risk to the public at this time, and screenings for those in close and prolonged contact with the student are underway.

“The risk to the general public is very, very low, if not zero,” Schultz said. “Once an individual has started treatment, they may be excluded from work or school while undergoing treatment until they’re no longer infectious. At this time, the risk is next to nothing.”

TB cases are considered to be pretty rare. During the last several years, MDH recorded about 170 active TB cases annually, while the majority of cases are found in more populous areas near the metro area. Between 2004 to 2018, Mower County averaged one to three TB cases a year.

“Tuberculosis is rare in the United States and less common than in many other parts of the world,” Schultz said. “TB is treatable with antibiotics, so that’s the good news. TB is not highly contagious, even though it might give that impression. It does require fairly close and prolonged contact to pass from one person to another, unlike measles or influenza for that matter.”

As for now, the investigation remains ongoing.

“The main thing is that we are encouraging people who are receiving notifications about the screening that they go in and get screened,” Schultz added. “Other than that, keep an eye out for students and staff who might exhibit symptoms and were identified as a close contact.”