Sacramento County public health officials said initial skin tests of 100 students at Grant High School revealed that 21 have been exposed to tuberculosis, presumably from a student who came down with the highly contagious disease last month.
That student has been kept from school and public areas and is undergoing treatment, which consists of administering multiple antibiotics over several months.
Dr. Olivia Kasirye met with a small group of parents Wednesday at Grant High School to address their concerns. She said the 21 students will undergo additional testing – most likely chest X-rays – to determine whether they have active or latent tuberculosis. She expects it will take two weeks before all the students are tested and results are complete.
In active cases, which can be fatal, the disease attacks the lungs and is spread through the air when people cough, laugh, sneeze or sing. Tuberculosis cannot be spread through hand-shaking or touching objects such as doorknobs or railings.
Not everyone infected with TB becomes sick. Some people have latent tuberculosis, which has no symptoms and is not infectious.
“We don’t expect them to have active” cases, Kasirye said of the students. None shows symptoms of the disease, which can include a persistent cough, fever, night sweats or unexplained weight loss. All of the students have been permitted to stay in school.
All of the students will be treated with antibiotics. That is important because latent TB can become active after remaining dormant in a person for years, Kasirye said. Both active and latent tuberculosis can be treated successfully, she said.
The health department is offering medical exams, X-rays and antibiotics free of charge to the students who tested positive.
The health department also offered free testing to students who took classes with the sick student. Kasirye said Wednesday that testing has been expanded to other people in the community who may have been exposed to the teenager.
Risk of infection depends on a number of factors, including proximity and duration of exposure.
Once patients are shown to have active tuberculosis, they must agree to stay at home, away from public places until treatment is finished. If they refuse, Kasirye has the authority to have them jailed.
The tuberculosis case has many Grant High students worried and rumors swirling through the campus, said Dresden Vogt, a sophomore who attended the meeting. She said that students are spending a lot of time speculating that others on campus have come down with the disease.
Most parents at the meeting Wednesday expressed concern that siblings of Grant High students were not tested for the disease. But Kasirye said family members do not need to be tested unless they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for active tuberculosis.
Health department staff will return to Grant High School in a few months to retest students. This is done because it sometimes takes a few months after exposure to get a proper reading on tests, Kasirye said.
The rate of active TB cases per 100,000 people has been steadily decreasing since 1992, when the United States last saw a resurgence of the disease. Overall, in 2012 – the latest year for which data are available, 3.2 cases per 100,000 people were reported nationwide. It was the lowest number of cases recorded since national reporting began in 1953, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it represented a 6 percent decline from the previous year.
About 80 cases of tuberculosis are reported in Sacramento County every year, but the patients are usually adults, Kasirye said last month. Last year 84 people in Sacramento County were diagnosed with active TB cases in Sacramento County, she said. Department officials decided to alert the public about this case because the patient was a student who shared classrooms with dozens of other teenagers.
“The important message is to remind people we still have TB in the community,” she said. “Be vigilant. Report it to the health department.”
For more information about tuberculosis, call the county health department at (916) 875-5881.