Over 1,000 student and faculty are being tested for tuberculosis at a Southern California high school this week. Health officials began testing at Indio High School in Southern California early this week after a student was positively diagnosed in late November. According to local health officials, at least 45 students have tested positive for the bacterial infection, but more tests and x-rays are be needed to determine if they have active TB. As many as five students were sent home Thursday when x-rays showed they needed followup examinations.
Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit, in an interview with the Desert Sun, indicated that not all cases would be affected by the disease. However he did say it was a “serious situation that calls for medically necessary precautions.” Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser said that the number of positive cases was higher than expected but the chance of a large breakout of TB was remote. However, Dr. Kaiser also stated that over 1,000 students and staff would be tested for tuberculosis and proof of testing would be required before returning to the California high school. The student who was diagnosed with disease in November is expected to have a full recovery.
Tuberculosis is a contagious disease that affects the lungs and is characterized by a heavy cough, fatigue, night sweats, fever and weight loss. Treatment could take months to complete, and if left untreated, it can lead to death. Health officials did stress that they did not believe the disease had spread to other schools or community areas. They also felt it was not necessary for family members of students and staff to be tested at this time. Benoit did point out that tuberculosis had been seen in other parts of the state and the world, and, even though it was very dangerous in the past, the medical community now knew how to treat and cure the disease.
“Not everyone who tests positive is going to have a serious bout with the disease.” Said Benoit.
At least one parent voiced frustration with city health officials. Noemi Munoz, whose son was one of the 45 students sent home for further tests, expressed concern that something had not been done sooner. Munoz stated, “I feel like it should have been done before Thanksgiving break, when we were all first notified.”
Tuberculosis can be spread from person to person by breathing the air while in close contact. The disease can remain dormant for years in the host body without symptoms or spreading to other people. While inactive TB can be treated with an antibiotic, once active TB has been identified, it must be treated more aggressively with a cocktail of drugs including rifampin, ethambutol, and pyrazinamide. Diagnosis of TB is most commonly done with skin tests and x-rays.
Drug resistant TB is becoming a serious issue and has no cure as of yet. This type of TB has been found in South East Asia, Russia, Africa and prison populations. The spread of a drug resistant TB is a concern for the world’s health organizations. However, the health community stresses that there is little concern that the tests for tuberculosis at this California high school will reveal this serious type of TB.
By Anthony Clark