The Douglas County Health Department confirmed Wednesday that a student at Omaha’s Benson High School has a confirmed case of tuberculosis. The diagnosis has many of the student’s schoolmates and their families wondering what they need to know about this infectious respiratory illness.
Tuberculosis, commonly called TB, is caused by a bacteria that usually attacks the lungs. TB bacteria can also attack elsewhere in the body, such as the kidneys, brain and spine.
In order to get TB, a person has to have close contact with someone who has been infected. The bacteria are put into the air when a person with an active form of the disease in their lungs or throat coughs, sneezes or speaks. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected. You cannot get TB by surface-to-surface contact or from things such as:
- Touching or sharing an infected person’s clothes
- Sharing drinking glasses or eating utensils
- Shaking hands
- Using the toilet
The Douglas County Health Department investigation shows 12 staff members and 193 students at Benson High School may have been exposed to the disease and might be at risk of infection. Those students and staff will receive free blood testing to determine if they have been infected with the bacteria.
Rudolf Kotula, MD
TB is not easily spread, and requires prolonged and repeated contact. That’s why those who are not at the greatest risk won’t receive the free testing. The health department wants everyone to know there is no cause for alarm. Letters have been sent to those at highest risk.
Even following exposure, not everyone will get an active form of TB. There is also a latent form of the disease. If TB is active, the bacteria can take weeks to develop into an illness. However, if you believe you have been exposed to someone with active TB disease, you should contact your doctor about getting a TB skin test or a special TB blood test.
You can also watch for signs and symptoms such as:
- Cough, sometimes that cough may contain blood
- Chest pain
- Drenching chills
- Weight loss
TB is easily treatable with a course of antibiotics. After starting medication, it takes several weeks for a person to no longer be a risk to infecting others. The antibiotics, however, continue for another six to eight months.
If you think you may have been exposed to TB, please contact your Methodist Physicians Clinic primary care provider for testing.
|Dr. Rudolf Kotula is an infectious disease and travel medicine specialist now
seeing patients at Methodist Physicians Clinic Regency.
Contact Dr. Kotula at MethodistPR@nmhs.org.