Individual at Delco school tests positive for tuberculosis; official says public at large is not at risk

Health department working to identify exposed students or staff, but say there is no reason to panic
Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria
Mycobacterium tuberculosis Photo credit NIH/NAID/IMAGE.FR/BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A person at a suburban middle school has tested positive for tuberculosis, and the Delaware County Health Department is working to identify students and staff who may have been exposed.

However, department officials say there is no reason to panic.

Health officials said on Monday they were notified of the diagnosis at Penn Wood Middle School in Darby, which is part of the William Penn School District.

Out of an abundance of caution, the district is putting together a list of potential contacts. The county will reach out to those families. The Health Department said, however, normal classroom activities can continue.

Delaware County Health Department Director Melissa Lyon said they are alerting the public out of an abundance of caution, and while tuberculosis is infectious, it’s not nearly as easily transmissible as cold, flu, RSV, or COVID-19.

“The public at large is not at risk of a tuberculosis infection or exposure,” said Lyon.

“If they have not been contacted by the Health Department, then there's no reason to consider that they would be considered an exposure.”

Lyon said to catch the infection, someone needs to spend prolonged periods – defined as 15 hours a week – in close contact with someone who is actively showing symptoms. She says it is not typically spread by touching shared surfaces or shaking hands, or even by sharing food or drink or drink with someone.

She says there is a vaccine for tuberculosis, but it’s not widely used in the U.S. as tuberculosis is rare. There are very effective treatments, though Lyon says people who are given medicine have to show they are taking the entire regiment out of concerns of spreading drug-resistant tuberculosis.

She adds that once on the treatment, people usually quickly return to regular activities.

Anyone with questions or concerns can call the Delaware County Health Department Wellness Line at 484-276-2100 or email DelcoWellness@co.delaware.pa.us.

Featured Image Photo Credit: NIH/NAID/IMAGE.FR/BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images