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El Paso County health officials say tuberculosis spread is unlikely

Posted at 10:22 PM, Sep 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-26 00:22:26-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — The El Paso County Public Health Department is testing as many as 50 people either working at or attending a Colorado Springs high school for possible exposure to tuberculosis.

This month, health officials learned someone involved with Mesa Ridge High School has had the dangerous yet rare lung infection since May.

Working with the school, they narrowed down a list of around 50 people that could've been exposed to the disease. Wednesday, the health department began skin tests to see if the disease spread, though they don't believe the chances of it spreading were strong.

Eric Gordon works as the lead disease prevention nurse for the county health department.

"Obviously, it's very scary for staff, certainly parents and for students to get a phone call or an email saying, 'Hey, you've been exposed to this disease that you've never even heard about,'" Gordon said. "This is something that is spread when someone who is sick coughs into the air, and then someone else inhales that."

Gordon actually evaluated the patient. He said the person does not have any of the common symptoms associated with the disease, which included a cough lasting more than three weeks, a fever, night sweats and unexplained weight loss.

In addition, the patient underwent advanced tests that sift through body fluids in search of tuberculosis bacteria.

The tests came back negative, leading Gordon and his team to believe the chance of someone else getting tuberculosis are not high.

"We believe, at best, that this individual is minimally infectious, potentially not at all," Gordon said.

Still, they're taking the possibility seriously.

County health officials will analyze the skin tests taken Wednesday, which should produce results on Friday. They've planned a return visit to the school to discuss the results with those that took the test.

Meanwhile, Gordon said the infected person is being kept at home until he/she completes enough tuberculosis medication. He said that's expected to be a 10-day period.