Worried parents pack Florin High session on tuberculosis diagnosis

A Sacramento County microbiologist holds test tubes containing patient specimens believed to contain the tuberculosis bacteria in 2001.
A Sacramento County microbiologist holds test tubes containing patient specimens believed to contain the tuberculosis bacteria in 2001.

Eighty anxious parents filled the multipurpose room at Florin High School on Monday night to learn more about a recent diagnosis of tuberculosis at the south Sacramento campus and plans to test up to 200 students for the disease Tuesday.

A Florin student diagnosed with active tuberculosis Jan. 26 is being cared for at home under the supervision of a visiting nurse, said Sacramento County public health officer Olivia Kasirye.

Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs and can be fatal, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is spread through the air when someone sneezes, coughs, speaks or sings.

Not everyone infected with TB becomes sick. Some people have latent tuberculosis without symptoms and are not infectious. If TB bacteria become active, however, the body is unable to stop them from growing. Both forms of tuberculosis can be successfully treated with antibiotics.

Parents at the meeting expressed concern about the diagnosis and were eager to learn more about the disease. Some asked if county health officials would test all the school’s students, while others wanted to be assured that their student hadn’t attended classes or shared sports activities with the infected student.

“I’m a little concerned, but then not,” said Susan Parvis, who has a senior at the school. “It’s too soon to know.” Parvis said she is likely to get her son tested despite the fact he has not been targeted for testing by the health department.

All Florin High parents were notified Friday that a student at the school was ill with active TB. A second letter went out to parents of between 150 and 200 students saying their child shared a class or were in close proximity to the ill student and should be tested, according to Xanthi Pinkerton, spokeswoman for the district.

The health department also is testing friends and family members of the student. The testing could be expanded if a large number of students are diagnosed with tuberculosis.

Students not identified as sharing a class with the student can be tested by their private physician, Kasirye said.

The test, a needle prick just under the skin, is not mandatory but is strongly recommended for identified students, Kasirye said. On Friday, medical staff will examine the injection site of students tested Tuesday. They will look at each for a bump that signals a student is positive for TB. Those with a positive result will have chest X-rays to determine whether the tuberculosis is active.

Sophomore Jerry Vasquez, 15, said students aren’t taking the news of the TB diagnosis too seriously – often joking about inadvertent coughs. He said teachers gave students a brief talk about tuberculosis Monday, told students the sick student was in the early stages of the disease and reassured them that everyone would be fine.

The risk of infection depends on a number of factors, including proximity and duration of exposure. Symptoms of tuberculosis include a cough that lasts more than three weeks, chest pain, fever, night sweats and unexplained weight loss. A person who has had TB a long time might also cough up blood.

According to the CDC, only 5 to 10 percent of people with latent TB develop active TB in their lifetimes. However, the percentage is higher for people with compromised immune systems from causes such as HIV.

Kasirye could not shed light on how the student contracted the disease but said most students with the active disease are exposed by family members. Once the student is no longer contagious, he or she will be allowed to return to school, she said.

Last February, a similar diagnosis at Grant High School in Del Paso Heights led to the testing of 345 students and staff members. Initially, Kasirye called the risk of contraction low and said that she did not anticipate that anyone else would contract the disease

Ultimately, five students and four friends and relatives of the student were identified with active tuberculosis, and more than 120 had the noninfectious form of the disease. Because more than three people contracted active TB from the same source, it was deemed an outbreak.

Kasirye said there may be more community meetings at Florin High School and with community organizations. “We definitely want to make sure we make ourselves available to the parents and to be available to answer questions,” she said.

Call The Bee’s Diana Lambert, (916) 321-1090. Follow her on Twitter @dianalambert.