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Parents can breathe easy after Alohas TB scare

Officials say students' risk of exposure is low

An estimated 40 residents attended an informational meeting Dec. 19 regarding the possibility of exposure after an individual at Aloha High School contracted tuberculosis.

Kent Burtner, communications officer for the Washington County Department of Health and Human Services, said the most frequent question at the meeting came from parents who were wondering how high a risk their children might be of getting the contagious lung disease.

On Monday, health officials reported that the individual diagnosed with TB - they are prohibited by both state and federal law from identifying the person - was present at the school for two months in the fall and is no longer on campus.

'They left in mid-November,' said Burtner.

Officials have stressed that the incident did not constitute a medical emergency or a breakout. Though tuberculosis is spread through the air by coughing or close contact, the possibility of transmission is extremely low.

'If you're passing someone in the hallway, it just isn't going to happen,' said Burtner.

However, because of the close contact some students may have had with the individual, 150 students and staff will be tested for TB in mid-January.

Burtner said an Aloha High School vice principal sorted through class records to determine who was in the same class as the individual with TB.

Part of the criteria used to determine if students should be tested included the amount of contact they had with the infected person. In this case, that would include students who had anywhere from one to five classes with the individual or if they rode on the same school bus.

Burtner said health officials are encouraged because none of the classrooms the individual was in contained the kind of closed environment that would make transmission more likely.

'(But) we're going to do the testing to be sure,' he said. 'We don't want to take any chances.'

The last reported incident of tuberculosis in the Beaverton School District occurred at Beaverton High School in 2005. At that time, 140 people - 128 students and 12 faculty and staff members - were tested.

'And there was no transmission of the disease to anyone,' said Burtner.

Health officials are hoping the Aloha High case turns out the same.

'We're way ahead of the curve on this one, I think,' said Burtner.

Burtner said up until seven years ago, health officials tested students for TB. However, the disease is so rare that they have discontinued such testing.

Last year, Washington County recorded only eight cases of tuberculosis for a population of 500,000 residents.

For more information and quick facts about the disease, visit www.co.washington.or.us/health and click on the 'Health News' icon.