State health officials say seven children and one adult at Charlotte Central School have tested positive for tuberculosis.
The news comes after a staff member was discovered to have an active case of the disease earlier in the month.
Health Commissioner Harry Chen emphasized at a news conference Friday that the positive tests do not represent an ongoing threat to public health because they only indicate infections – not active cases of the disease in its contagious stage.
“I want to make it really clear at this point: There is only one case of active tuberculosis and that’s the original case,” he said.
Tuberculosis comes in two forms: Disease (active) or infection (latent). People with an active case of the disease often have a persistent cough. Tuberculosis can spread when another person breathes in an area where an infected person is coughing.
Once it has spread though, tuberculosis takes the form of an infection. These can last for years without symptoms, and TB infections aren’t contagious.
“Just to give you an example,” Chen said, “I have a positive TB test, so I would be classified as having latent TB for the past 20 or so years.”
Chen said he is too old to take the antibiotics required to clear the infection, but he could be treated if he developed an active case of disease.
All eight of the new Vermont cases are thought to be infections – not active disease.
"The next steps after a positive skin test are a medical evaluation by a health care provider and a chest X-ray," said state epidemiologist Patsy Kelso. "And those are to ensure that the individual is not already sick with TB disease."
Anyone with an infection can cure it through a nine month course of antibiotics, eliminating the chance of the infection developing into an active case of disease.
At Charlotte Central School, 150 people (132 students and 18 adults) were tested for TB using a skin swab after the initial case was reported. With the eight positive tests, health department officials plan to test the rest of the student body – about 260 students – soon.
In addition, the health department will wait eight to 10 weeks and then re-test everyone from the original 150 whose results came back negative; officials said it can take weeks for someone to test positive after initial exposure to TB.
“I think the important thing really,” Chen said of TB cases, “A: is to identify them quickly, B: start their treatment, C: ensure that they’re no longer exposing people. And all those things are really taken care of, and certainly I wish that person a speedy recovery.”