May 22, 2018
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Lewiston warns parents about TB in schools

By Kathryn Skelton, Sun Journal

LEWISTON, Maine — Lewiston High School has sent letters to students’ parents warning them that their children may have been exposed to tuberculosis in the classroom in the spring.

According to Principal W. Gus LeBlanc, 87 students shared classes with an infected teen and health officials have strongly recommended that all of these students be tested for infection.

Letters also were sent to nine faculty members who had the infected student in their classrooms, LeBlanc said, and who were considered to have been in close contact with the teen. Testing is also recommended for these staffers.

More general letters were sent to all Lewiston High School families, alerting them to the diagnosis and providing general information about TB and its treatment.

The letters were sent July 1. The infected teen has been out of school since May 27.

“The most important thing to understand is that it’s a curable disease,” said Dr. Sheila Pinette, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “The spread is very rare through infectious people.”

TB is a respiratory infection spread by tiny droplets in the air from talking, sneezing or coughing, according to the CDC, and can be fatal if left untreated. Maine had eight confirmed cases in 2010, nine in 2009.

Lewiston High School will host State Epidemiologist Stephen Sears at 6 p.m. July 14 with a TB information session for parents and members of the community. Free testing, which the school district recommends even though the risk of infection is low, also will take place on July 25 and Aug. 1 at the high school. Students will return two to three days later to receive results.

Nurses will look for a little raised area on the skin, Pinette said. “That will tell us whether or not you’ve been exposed to TB. Then, if you have, they would go on and do a chest X-ray to see if you have a pulmonary infection.”

In the meantime, she said parents can watch for signs and symptoms such as chronic cough, low-grade fever and excessive fatigue. People also can be carriers and have no symptoms.

The state is not releasing the infected student’s name or grade. He’s wearing a mask outdoors and getting treatment, and his family is being tested now. “It is hard for us to know exactly where his contact was,” Pinette said.

Populations that are more at risk for the disease are health care workers, the elderly, homeless, foreign travelers and some immigrants who’ve been in the states less than five years.

Parents with questions can also call the CDC’s TB Control Program at 800-821-5821, or Lewiston High School at 795-4195.

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