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Person tests positive for tuberculosis at Penn Wood Middle School in Delaware County

DARBY, Pennsylvania (WPVI) — The Delaware County Health Department says a person at Penn Wood Middle School in the William Penn School District has tested positive for tuberculosis.

Representatives are working to identify students and staff of the Darby school who might have been exposed to the illness.

The health department stresses that students and staff can continue active learning in the school setting because TB is not as contagious as the flu and requires extended close contact (around at least 15 hours of contact per week) to spread.

“The important first step is to identify close contacts of the person who was infected. Those identified as close contacts are being notified by the Health Department for testing arrangements,” the DCHD said in a statement released Monday.

Parents with concerns should call the Delaware County Health Department Wellness Line, available Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., by phone at (484) 276 – 2100 or by email at DelcoWellness@co.delaware.pa.us.

Tuberculosis is rare. The latest CDC data from 2021 shows 7,882 reported cases nationwide; 166 cases were reported in Pennsylvania, New Jersey reported 292 cases and Delaware had 41 reported cases.

“It is a bacteria that people breathe into their lungs, and a lot of people breathe it in and nothing happens for a period of time. The body walls it off and it lays dormant maybe for decades after initial exposure,” said Dr. Debra Powell, the chief of infectious diseases and interim chair of the Department of Medicine with Tower Health.

Powell says it can be latent and stay hidden or become active.

“What happens with active tuberculosis after you get that organism into your lung, it starts to form like a type of pneumonia. It has an infection within the lung and it breaks into an airway and you start coughing it up and that’s why it’s infectious to other people. In an active case, they are having symptoms: fever child, cough weight loss, night sweats, and those are people who are infectious,” she adds.

So how contagious is it?

“People we see get tuberculosis are typically in the same household with the index case, or in the same classroom over a longer period of time. But usually not casual exposure to people like at the grocery store or a hallway,” said Powell.

Tuberculosis is NOT spread by:

– shaking someone’s hand

– sharing food or drink

– touching bed linens or toilet seats

– sharing toothbrushes

– kissing

Here is more information on TB from the CDC:

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