ICU (copy)

ICU nurse Kristen Gooch works in a room with a COVID patient in September at Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs.

Public health officials expect to test more than a dozen people exposed to an individual at George Washington High School in Denver who tested positive for tuberculosis, The Denver Gazette has learned.

Testing begins today and will continue through next week, said Dr. Michelle Haas, an infectious disease expert and interim director of the Tuberculosis Clinic at The Public Health Institute at Denver Health.

Officials did not provide any information about how widespread the exposure may have been, saying only those “who may have been exposed have already been contacted and will be tested.”

Health officials will conduct blood and skin tests. Haas said providers will be on site to interpret the results, which should be available next week.

While a contagious disease, tuberculosis (TB) is not as transmittable as other viruses and bacteria.

“It’s not nearly as infectious as COVID,” Haas said.

Students, staff, and parents have been informed of the case, health officials said in a press release Tuesday, noting: “There is no ongoing risk for TB exposure at school.”

Officials have not released any information about the patient.

TB can lay dormant in the body for a long time, even decades. Patients often will be unaware they have TB. This makes it difficult to track down the origin in countries with so few cases such as the U.S.

As the parent of a daughter who had latent TB, Haas knows a tuberculosis diagnosis can be frightening.

“Yes, it is scary and there is a lot of uncertainty,” said Haas, noting children often have a good prognosis. “If they test positive the chance that they have active TB will be very, very low.”

Tuberculosis is a contagious disease spread from person to person through the air. The germs — which can stay in the air for several hours, depending on the environment — are transmitted through coughs, sneezes, speaking or singing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The disease typically affects the lungs, but can also impact the brain, kidneys or spine.

Symptoms include feelings of sickness or weakness, weight loss, fever, night sweats. When the disease has progressed to the lungs, symptoms include chest pain and coughing up blood.

Without treatment, TB can be fatal.

While there is a vaccine for TB, it is not generally recommended in the U.S. because of the low risk of infection.

In Colorado, 52 people were diagnosed with TB in 2020, the latest data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. That marked a 21% decline from 2019 when the state had 66 TB cases.

With 0.9 cases per 100,000 people in 2020, the decline represented the lowest rate on record.

The Tuberculosis Clinic treats about 50 people annually with active TB across the seven counties it serves.

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