A person at Central Middle School in Anchorage tested positive for tuberculosis recently, prompting school officials to send families a notice Monday.
“Given what we know at this time, and based on guidance from medical experts, we believe the risk of infection to other individuals at Central Middle School to be low,” reads the letter, signed by Central Middle School Principal Chris Bernoski.
Out of respect for privacy, officials with the Anchorage School District declined to specify whether the person involved was a student or staff member. Spokesman Corey Allen Young said the case was confirmed among “a member of the school community in the building,” referring to Central Middle School.
After learning about the positive test, the district consulted municipal and state health officials to determine a response, according to Kathy Bell, ASD’s Director of Health Care Services.
“There’s definitely a treatment protocol for it,” Bell said. “If you get TB it can be dormant, and they would treat you with a kind of medication, and the medication would cause the bacteria to go into remission so you wouldn’t have any problems with it in case you got another disease.”
Bell said officials’ concerns about further spread were dampened because the person was asymptomatic, showing none of the signs that appear in acute cases, like a productive cough, chest pain or fever. The person, whom school officials did not identify in their letter, has started taking medications to treat the disease.
“This is very low risk for being spread, unlike COVID … this is not like that, it’s very low risk,” Bell said.
The Anchorage School District plans to offer testing to students and anyone who works in the building, but not until approximately April 1.
“The recommended testing period for TB is 8-10 weeks after exposure because it can take several weeks for a person to develop a positive test after becoming infected,” Bernoski’s letter states.
TB typically affects the lungs, and spreads through prolonged exposure to someone with an active case in close quarters. Alaska has long had some of the highest rates of TB in the country, and as recently as 2022 saw a 66% increase in active cases over several previous years, primarily in rural Western Alaska.
Though the state used to conduct extensive testing for tuberculosis in school children, the Department of Health and Social Services began to phase out its broad surveillance program beginning in 2016 because it consumed large resources and had gone years without detecting a single case. The requirement for school districts to test was dropped in 2019. Nationally, TB vaccines are no longer part of a child’s routine vaccine series.
“If your child is exhibiting symptoms of TB, please call your primary healthcare provider or contact the Anchorage Health Department for further evaluation,” Beroski wrote in his letter.