Maryland state health officials say the danger posed by the discovery of a case of tuberculosis at one Montgomery County high school is not as critical as some might think.
A letter sent late last week to parents of students attending Watkins Mill High School confirmed an unidentified student carrying the disease is being treated and there is no risk of additional exposure to staff or students.
Cindy Edwards, senior nursing administrator for Montgomery County's Department of Health and Human Services admits that tuberculosis is a highly contagious disease. Unlike an outbreak among small groups of people such as family units, however, health professionals consider this a low risk event.
"When we look at schools and the fact that this person is in the same class as someone, it's a low risk, but to be on the safe side, we go in and do some testing to make sure no one else has gotten the disease," Edwards says.
Health officials point out that occasional outbreaks in the region are not uncommon due to the number of residents and visitors who travel to the area from countries with a high rate of tuberculosis. In 2012, the Maryland State Department of Health recorded more than 220 cases of tuberculosis — 85 in Montgomery County.
Henry Rosemont, whose daughter attends Watkins Mill, says he's not alarmed.
"I'm not really worried about it," Rosemont says. "I'm originally from the Caribbean, so I know what is going on when people suffer this."
State and school health officials say they plan to begin testing staff and students for tuberculosis in late March.