Grant Union High School is in the midst of a tuberculosis outbreak, Sacramento County health officials said Tuesday.
After previously reporting only one case of active TB, officials said four more students have tested positive for the active disease, which attacks the lungs and can be fatal. Scientists consider three related tuberculosis cases an outbreak, said Sacramento County Public Health Officer Olivia Kasirye.
Beyond the Grant cases, four relatives and friends of the student who initially tested positive also contracted active TB, bringing the total to nine known cases.
“It is higher than we usually get for most of our investigations,” Kasirye said. “This is considered an outbreak. The good news is that many of these additional cases were caught early and they are all in treatment.”
The health department has tested nearly 500 Grant students and school employees since a student at the school tested positive for active TB in February.
Of those, the health department diagnosed 122 people with latent tuberculosis, which has no symptoms and is not infectious but can become active after a long period of dormancy. Twenty-four people have completed treatment, and 55 others are being treated.
Tuberculosis is spread through the air when infected people cough, laugh, sneeze or sing. It cannot be spread through hand-shaking or touching objects such as doorknobs or railings.
Parents contacted Tuesday had not heard of the new active tuberculosis cases and complained that communication from the health department and school district has been limited. Shannon Daniel said his daughter learned of one of them on Instagram two weeks ago because the TB patient is a friend.
The district on Tuesday said in a prepared statement: “We have been communicating with parents and staff as we get updated information from Sacramento County Public Health. We just received the information about the most recent chest X-ray, and we will communicate the results to parents and staff.”
Daniel is among the parents who have misgivings about sending their students back to the school in the fall, he said. Leaving Grant isn’t a decision he wants to make. His daughter is a star basketball player there.
“Now I’m really worried,” Daniel said when told about the other three cases. He has taken his daughter to their private doctor to be tested twice and plans to do it again to ensure she is TB-free. His grandmother died of tuberculosis. His son, a recent Grant graduate, is one of the 122 diagnosed with latent TB and is still taking antibiotics to battle the disease.
Daniel said the barbershop where he works next door to Grant – 3 B’s – has been abuzz about tuberculosis since the first case was announced in the spring.
“It has been a daily subject, and I work six days a week,” he said. “A lot of parents are really concerned.”
The four students with tuberculosis had positive screenings in March. But health officials did not confirm them as active cases until they obtained the results from chest X-rays and evaluated their symptoms. All four cases were identified as active within the last month, one as recently as last week, said Laura McCasland, health department spokeswoman.
Three of the four students had symptoms. One had a slight fever and coughing, while two others had lymphadenitis, an inflammation of the lymph nodes. All four of the cases were caught early and were never contagious, McCasland said.
The number of active tuberculosis cases could still go up. Thirty of the students who tested positive for TB have not undergone chest X-rays and other evaluations necessary to determine if they have active cases. Kasirye said these students will not be allowed to register for classes unless they are cleared.
“We are working with the school ... to reach out and make sure they complete the evaluations. We hope to get this done at the end of summer,” she said.
The health department has completed three separate screenings at the school. The first two included students who had had direct contact with the student diagnosed with active tuberculosis in February or whose classrooms were on a shared ventilation system with rooms the student occupied.
Parents, worried about the high number of latent cases, pushed for a screening of the general population in June. Two of the 75 students in that group tested positive for TB, which is typical of the number that would be found in a sampling of the general population, Kasirye said. The lower percentage showed that the initial groups screened were at high risk and that “not the entire school was a high risk, something some parents were concerned about,” she said.
Access to testing is an issue for parent Sascha Vogt, who said the only tuberculosis screening offered by the health department for the entire Grant Union High School population was on June 13 – two days after school ended for the year. “Access to health care is an issue in our community as it is,” she said. “Ideally, you would offer it to everyone when school is open.”
Kasirye said there are still 20 students who were identified as at-risk who have not had an initial screening. She encouraged students who have avoided screenings or follow-up procedures to “realize it is a serious thing” and undergo testing.
Grant students and staff members who would like to be screened for TB should go to their health care provider or contact the Sacramento County Division of Public Health at (916) 875-5881.