Ottawa Public Health warns of TB risk at Ridgemont HS

One hundred and fifty students and staff at Ottawa's Ridgemont High School will be tested for tuberculosis next week after exposure by a student.

Ottawa Public Health will host an information session for the school community Tuesday, December 4th at 7 p.m. to answer any concerns they may have.  Tuberculosis, while not unheard of in Ottawa, is not terribly common. There have been a few dozen cases so far this year, spread through coughing.  The concern, of course, is this crowded school environment and the elevated risk of exposure.

Ottawa Public Health says a student attending Ridgemont High school between September 4th and November 12th  of this year had an active case of tuberculosis, a highly infectious disease that's spread from person to person through coughing or sneezing.  Now, 150 students and several teachers will undergo testing next week to see if they've become infected.

Pam Oickle is the program manager of infectious disease and sexual health services with Ottawa Public Health, “Is there a reason for concern?” she says, “Not particularly given that Ottawa Public Health is doing testing.  We will be able to identify people very early in the infectious stage and get everyone treated prior to developing any kind of active disease.”

TB doesn't become active right away, Oickle explains.  It can remain dormant or "latent" in a person's lungs for some time and is easily treatable in that form.

Ottawa Public Health says only people who came into direct and prolonged contact with this individual are at risk of contracting latent TB, so people in the same classroom for instance.  That's why only certain staff and students are being tested next week and if they test positive, it can be treated quickly.

The student with the original TB case isn't currently at the school.  Ottawa Public Health will be on hand at Ridgemont Tuesday evening to answers any questions from parents or students.

“We're receiving some calls,” says Brett Reynolds, the Associate Director at the Ottawa Carleton District School Board, “but the messaging is from OPH is that there is no immediate risk and they will answers questions tonight that the public may have and provide more information as things unfold.”

Active tuberculosis isn't common in Ottawa. There were 52 cases in 2013, 51 in 2014, 46 in 2015, 41 in 2016 and 46 in 2017 with 42 cases to date this year.  There is no vaccine to prevent TB.

“Untreated, it can become quite serious,” says Oickle, “but if we can catch it in early stages, we are able to very successfully treat it.”

Some parents believe that all 800 students at Ridgemont should be tested just in case.  Ottawa Public Health says that just isn't necessary and the school board concurs.

“I think they feel they've cast their net wide enough to mitigate any risk,” says Reynolds, “but not cause any undo worry by testing people that don't really need it.”