MARYLAND

Tuberculosis diagnosed at Watkins Mill High School

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GAITHERSBURG, Md. (WJLA) - Parents in Montgomery County are expressing concern upon learning doctors diagnosed a student at Watkins Mill High School with tuberculosis.

On Thursday, teachers sent students home with a one-page letter, confirming an individual carried the disease in school, between October 2013 and January 2014.

"The affected individual is being treated... and there is no risk of additional exposure to any students or staff at this time," the letter read.

Tuberculosis, or TB for short, is a contagious, potentially deadly illness that can affect your lungs, brain, kidneys and spine. According to the Centers for Disease Control, symptoms include weakness, weight loss, fever and night sweats.

In 2012, Maryland's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported 224 cases of TB, 85 of which were in Montgomery County. What's unique about the Watkins Mill's incident; the 1424 students and 175 staff members that may have fallen victim to cross contamination.

"I heard people talking about it in seventh period, that it's a sickness and that it's very dangerous," sophomore Serge Kamba remarked.

Kamba is worried he and his older brother Jean, a senior at Watkins Mill, could be unknowingly harboring the illness.

"Anyone could have it right now and not know," Kamba added.

On Saturday night, the two brothers laid low, watching television with their parents.

"It was just a big surprise for me because I know TB can spread easily," Serge's father John Kamba, an immigrant from Congo remarked. "Thankfully there's technology and medicine in the United States, so this won't compare to what I saw in Africa."

"It's certainly not good news that there's a case of TB at your child's school," Watkins Mill High School PTSA President Susan Young said.

Young says the biggest parental concern thus far, having to wait until late March for testing. Sounds odd, but health experts contend sampling skin or drawing blood sooner than eight weeks after exposure, could produce inaccurate results. Because the individual in this case wasn't diagnosed until late January, late March is the soonest effective testing can commence.

"As a parent you want those answers now, but unfortunately it's just not possible in this case," Young added.

Due to HIPPA and FERPA privacy laws, MCPS will not say who contracted the disease. Instead, officials plan on contacting students and staff members who had class or an after-school activity with the affected individual. Scheduling will begin in early March, with free testing to follow late that month.

"Pretty nervous, pretty scared, but hopefully everything will work out," Serge Kamba concluded.

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