Sacramento County health officials said skin tests of 48 American River College students and staff members earlier this month showed no cases of active tuberculosis, although five were diagnosed with a latent version of the disease that is not contagious.
Earlier this month, the county asked 150 students and staff members at the American River College main campus and Natomas Center satellite campus to be tested after a student who attended both schools was diagnosed with active tuberculosis, which attacks the lungs and can be fatal.
The test results don’t necessarily give American River College a clean bill of health. Less than a third of the people contacted for testing showed up.
People who had either shared a class or had otherwise been near the sick student for an extended period were sent letters and emails requesting that they be tested.
“We are following up with those students,” said Scott Crow, spokesman for the college. “Testing is voluntary and we are certainly doing all we can to encourage folks.”
Another round of tests has tentatively been scheduled for Jan. 25 at American River College. Public health officials will test any of the 102 people who missed the December test, as well as offer follow-up tests to the 43 who tested negative.
A second screening routinely takes place eight to 10 weeks after the first test. There is often a delay from the time a person is exposed to tuberculosis to the time the test becomes positive, explained Sacramento County public health officer Olivia Kasirye.
Those contacted by the school or public health also can schedule an appointment for a tuberculosis test at the public health department or at the American River College health center.
Tuberculosis is spread through the air when someone sneezes, coughs, speaks or sings. Symptoms of the disease 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.
The risk of infection depends on a number of factors, including proximity and duration of exposure.
Those who test positive for latent TB will use a new regime of antibiotics that requires taking medication once a week for 12 weeks. Previously, patients were required to take one pill daily for nine months. A public health official must watch as patients take their medicine.
The five patients already diagnosed with latent tuberculosis will be allowed to return to school when the spring semester begins in mid-January, according to public health officials. The students were all given chest X-rays, which confirmed they did not have active tuberculosis, Kasirye said.
The student diagnosed with active tuberculosis is being treated with a more extreme regime of daily doses of antibiotics over six months, Kasirye said. The student will be allowed to return to school once he or she is no longer infectious.
“There is no reason to be concerned,” Kasirye said. “If you look at the number of cases over the years it is actually going lower over the years.”
Sacramento County has about the same number of tuberculosis cases as other counties its size – roughly 80 a year – although the number is decreasing statewide, Kasirye said. Nationally, the numbers also have been decreasing steadily since 1992, when the United States last saw a resurgence of the disease, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The recent spate of cases in local schools is a little more unusual, Kasirye said. “Prior to Grant (Union High) we hadn’t had one in 10 years,” she said.
At least five Sacramento-area schools in the last two years have had active cases of tuberculosis. Franklin High School and Franklin Elementary School each had a case in March, while Florin High School had a case in January.
Grant High School in Del Paso Heights was the site of an outbreak of tuberculosis in February 2014 that led to the testing of 345 students and staff members. Ultimately, five students and four friends and relatives of the student were identified with active tuberculosis and 150 more 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 the recent cases at individual schools in the region were not related to those at other schools, with the exception of those at Franklin High and Franklin Elementary, where the two infected patients are siblings.
“It’s just that we still have TB in the community and we still need to be vigilant and make sure we get people treated,” Kasirye said.
For questions or concerns about the testing, call American River College at 916-484-8383.
For questions about tuberculosis, call the county health department at 916-875-5881.