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Renton High School on edge after confirmed case of tuberculosis

RENTON, Wash. – Students and staff at Renton High School were notified on Monday that they may have been exposed to tuberculosis. King County Health Department and school officials worked in tandem to alert 130 people they are at risk for the contagious disease.

School officials will not confirm if it is a student or staff member that has tested positive for TB; they would only say the person is no longer at the school and most likely contracted the disease while abroad.

“I was like wondering if it was someone that I knew,” said Emilee Kane, describing the unanswered questions she had about the school’s letter that was sent to her home. She was notified about the TB exposure on Monday along with all of her classmates and said she’s nervous.

“I was thinking what if they coughed on something,” she said.

Kane said several of her friends were called into the teacher’s office to alert them they are part of 130 individuals the school and health officials want to seek testing.

Kane has not been asked to get screened, but without knowing who the infected individual is, she said she’s nervous. Emilee’s mom, Imiteria Kahue, said it’s concerning the school won’t just test everyone.

“Kids are kids, they touch everything, they talk to everybody, it’s a school,” she said. “You can’t really assume just because they are in the same class, they’re not in contact.”

Renton High School and King County Health District say they are casting a very wide net. On Thursday 130 people will receive a free blood test for TB, despite more than 1,500 staff and students at Renton High School.

“As far as we know, there are no additional cases of active TB in the school community,” said Masa Narita, King County’s Tuberculosis Control officer.

In King County, 98 new cases of TB disease were reported in 2015, according to a press release by the agency. On average, two cases of TB disease are diagnosed in King County each week. The department said TB is harder to pick up than germs from either a cold or flu.

Last week, that included one positive on the University of Washington’s campus; 121 people were tested for exposure.

The CDC says:

“TB bacteria are spread through the air from one person to another. The TB bacteria are put into the air when a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, speaks, or sings. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected.”

Another student at Renton High School, Davonte Sauls said his friends are taking their own measures to stay safe.

“[We’re saying] keep your distance because you don’t know who has it or if they’ve got contracted with it from someone else,” said Sauls.

Imiteria Kahue said fear is also contagious, another reason why everyone should be tested.

“All the kids should be tested anyways, I think it’s just a safety thing at this point,” she said. “It’s a confirmed case of tuberculosis and that’s kind of a serious thing.”

To learn more about signs, symptoms, and transmission of TB, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s TB website - https://www.cdc.gov/tb/