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The Charles County Department of Health has determined that 360 people will need to be tested because of exposure to a student who was diagnosed with tuberculosis.

On Thursday morning, a student at North Point High School was diagnosed with the disease, according to information provided by Charles County Public Schools and the health department.

Of the 360, 322 are students and 38 are staff at the Waldorf school, William Leebel, health department public information officer, said Tuesday morning.

Leebel said tuberculosis, an airborne disease, is a reportable illness and when the individual’s doctor reported the diagnosis Thursday, the health department began an investigation with cooperation from the school system to ensure no further risk at the school.

Tuberculosis, Leebel explained, is a bacterial infection spread through the air that comes into the body through the lungs. It is usually spread through coughing or sneezing.

“This is not something you can pick up casually by walking by someone,” Leebel said.

He also explained that it is not passed by sharing food, kissing or touching toilet seats.

He said those who are at risk of infection are exposed to the individual with the ilness for a prolonged time in an enclosed area.

Quite often, Leebel said, those who have a healthy immune system can be exposed to TB and never experience symptoms or get infected.

According to a press release from the school system Thursday, “Classmates, teachers and staff members at North Point who may have had prolonged exposure to the student diagnosed with TB will receive an exposure letter and a TB testing consent form by email and regular mail early next week. The health department will provide free TB tests at North Point to those people identified. North Point parents/guardians who do not receive an exposure letter or email do not need to have their children tested at this time.”

Leebel said letters were sent to all of the identified individuals Monday afternoon and some were sent as late as Tuesday.

Leebel said the health department is working with the individual’s family to identify any people outside of the high school who might have been exposed.

There will be a clinic set up at North Point on May 15, where those people who received exposure letters will be given a free TB test.

Leebel said the test is a simple injection under the skin.

The health department will make a return trip to North Point the following Thursday to read the tests and see if any of those tested had reactions.

Leebel said it is important for the public to know that TB “is completely preventable, completely treatable and completely curable.”

In some situations, people have been diagnosed with multidrug-resistant TB. Leebel said, with those cases, the TB is still treatable, there is just a longer process as medical professionals determine the proper medication regiment for the individual.

North Point staff sent home an informational letter and TB fact sheet Friday.

A fact sheet also is posted at www.ccboe.com.

Anyone with questions can contact the health department’s communicable disease control program at 301-609-6900, ext. 6025, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and ask to speak to a nurse.

Leebel said testing is an ongoing process and what health officials find when administering the tests will determine any future actions that might or might not be necessary.

Leebel said the health department does provide free TB testing to the general public. The tests are by appointment only.

gphillips@somdnews.com