36 test positive for latent tuberculosis in latest Grant High testing

The Sacramento County Department of Health on Thursday released results from the latest of four tuberculosis screenings since the diagnosis in February of a Grant Union High School student with active tuberculosis. A total of 345 students and staff were tested.

According to a Department of Health news release, 36 tested positive for latent TB and were scheduled for chest X-rays to determine if they display symptoms indicative of active TB, which is contagious and can be fatal if not treated. The results of the X-rays have not been released.

“We’ll release this information as soon as we have it. But our anticipation is that we will not have to make that announcement,” said Olivia Kasirye, the county’s public health officer. She does not believe there are any cases of active TB among those most recently tested.

“TB is different from a lot of diseases in that, when a person gets exposed, bacteria enters the body and often the immune system is able to fight it off,” Kasirye said. She said that this results in latent TB, which is not contagious and does not cause symptoms.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 5 to 10 percent of people with latent TB will develop active TB in their lifetimes. However, this percentage is higher for people with compromised immune systems from causes such as HIV.

Last Friday’s screening focused on 215 Grant Union High School students and staff who were in the same classrooms as the first patient with active TB but during different periods. Another 130 students and staff volunteered to be screened. In the former group, 29 people (13 percent) tested positive for latent TB and in the latter, seven (5 percent).

Kasirye stopped short of saying that TB is contained at Grant Union High School but said there have been no new cases.

“All exposure to the disease occurred prior to March, so there was only one student who was identified as infectious,” she said. “That student has been treated.”

The screening last week was part of an investigation following the spread of active TB from one Grant Union student to five other students and four friends and relatives. Kasirye said scientists consider three related tuberculosis cases an outbreak.

People with active TB can spread the disease through the air when they cough, laugh, sneeze or sing, but not through hand-shaking or touching objects such as doorknobs or railings.

Kasirye said that, although no dates have been set for further screening, testing needs to continue until every person exposed to the first student diagnosed is tested and all latent and active cases of TB are identified.

Parents have been critical of the county Health Department’s handling of the situation, but Kasirye said that her department is making an effort to “look for opportunities to engage the community and answer questions.”

Last month, the Health Department hosted a community meeting with City Councilman Allen Warren that gave parents and others in the community the chance to ask questions about the tuberculosis cases at Grant. Kasirye said her department is also planning a health fair next month at which more information about tuberculosis will be offered.

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