GAUTIER, MS (WLOX) - Hundreds of students and teachers headed back to Gautier High School Wednesday with more than school on their minds. The 850 students enrolled at the school recently learned that a classmate is infected with tuberculosis. The student was not in school Wednesday and his identity has not been revealed.
Tuesday night, officials with the State Department of Health and the Pascagoula School District held a meeting to inform the parents and grandparents about TB, and let them know it is safe to send their kids to school because there is no ongoing risk of exposure.
"This is not an outbreak, this is one case," said Paul Byers, Deputy State Epidemiologist for the Mississippi Department of Health.
The experts explained the specifics about the bacterial infection and how it is transmitted.
"TB is an infection that has to be inhaled through the lung and that is how the infection starts. It requires close, prolonged contact with an individual who has an active disease. It is not an infection that can be easily picked up from casual contact," said Byers.
Dr. Paul Byers also told parents not to be afraid to the students to Gautier High.
"Your children can safely attend the school. There is no reason for your kids not to be at school. They will not be exposed to TB. The exposure has already occurred and what we are trying to do is find out if it has spread to anybody."
The student with TB will not return to school until the treatment is complete and he makes a full recovery. As a safety precaution, health officials said around 194 students and teachers who may have come in close contact with the infected student will need to be tested. That testing is expected to start next week once they identify all the students and staff members who may have been exposed.
"We don't anticipate finding anybody with active TB disease at this point. But we are doing the appropriate measures to identify anybody who may have been infected with TB and provide the appropriate treatment," Byers said.
Still, several parents told WLOX Wednesday morning they contemplated not sending their kids back because of the TB scare, but decided it was best for them to return and advised them to be safe.
Wednesday's attendance numbers will be available later today.