Queens high school students contracts TB, forces testing for staff and students

Dr. Sapna Parikh reports on TB scare in Queens.
March 25, 2014 8:01:56 PM PDT
Students at a Queens high school are being tested for tuberculosis after one student contracted the potentially deadly bacteria.

Six staff members and 170 students at Hillcrest High School will receive free testing. "That's a little scary," said parent Julie King. "There's so many kids and that's scary."

Authorities said that the infected student is doing well and currently being treated. In New York City, there is an incidence of TB among students about five or six times a year.

A letter obtained by Eyewitness News sent to parents from the city health department, said that unless they receive a letter stating otherwise, their student has not been identified for testing.

Dr. Jay Varma, the city's deputy commissioner for disease control, said those in close contact with the student will be tested. Because the person with TB is receiving treatment, there is no health risk to students or staff currently at the school, he said.

"Not everyone in the school is at risk. Although TB is a disease that's transmitted through the air by coughing, it takes a lot of exposure for somebody to get it," said Varma. "You don't just get it passing in the hallway shaking their hands."

Tuberculosis is caused by a bacteria that attacks the lungs. If it is caught early through a blood test, it can be treated before there are any symptoms at all.

New York City has more cases of TB than any other city in the United States because it has a large population and people visit from all over the world.

Varma said that those most at risk are born in countries where TB is more common or have a medical condition that affects their immune system.

"We can offer them a medication to make sure they don't go on to develop the disease," said Varma. "We know10 percent will go on, but by giving them medication we can bring that risk closer to zero."