Health & Medicine

County health officers may test more Florin High School students for TB cases

Dr. Fred Stargardter, a radiologist checks over chest x-rays at the Sacramento County Primary Care Center on Stockton Blvd.
Dr. Fred Stargardter, a radiologist checks over chest x-rays at the Sacramento County Primary Care Center on Stockton Blvd.

If last year’s experience at Grant High School is any guide, news that a Florin High School student recently tested positive for tuberculosis may spark a worrisome period of months of testing larger pools of students and school staff for TB.

After Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye confirmed Friday that a student with symptoms of tuberculosis did have an active case of the communicable disease, Florin parents and others were reported to be preparing for a community meeting possibly this week.

During last year’s TB outbreak at Grant High, some parents questioned the county’s ability to confirm that tuberculosis cases on campus were under control. Kasirye’s team had to return several times during a five-month period to satisfy parent demands.

The first round of testing at Grant High School last February subjected 100 students to a needle-prick just under the skin of their forearm. Of those, 21 were identified as having tuberculous of the latent variety. (Latent tuberculosis shows no symptoms and is not contagious, but can spark up after a long period of dormancy.) All were treated with antibiotics, medical exams and chest X-rays, courtesy of the county budget. All remained in school.

By April, the number of those with latent tuberculosis grew to 47. By May, staff and students with latent tuberculosis has reached 111. The student who was diagnosed with active tuberculosis had returned to school, no longer contagious. But because the number of latent TB cases kept climbing, Kasirye targeted more teens for testing, including those in clasrooms with shared ventilation systems.

Eventually, the county health department diagnosed 122 people with latent tuberculous at Grant High School. As for those with active tuberculosis, the number had risen to five students and four others.

Officials said some parents wanted the entire student body tested, to ensure the disease did not go undetected in their children.

Tuberculosis may be more common in communities than residents suspect, say health experts, especially the latent TB variety, which causes neither symptoms nor is contagious. Most people with latent TB can go years, if not their whole life, without developing an active case of tuberculosis. Their chances are improved by a course of antibiotics.

At Florin High School, part of the Elk Grove Unified School District, county health officials said they will start first by testing students who shared classrooms with the confirmed ill patient. Others who were in close proximity to the student will be tested as well.

Tuberculosis is a contagious disease that spreads through the air when a sickened person coughs or expels minute particles of saliva (or nasal spray from a sneeze). Laughing or singing can spew bacteria, too. Those who inhale that air risk catching tuberculosis, which is typically rare in school-age young people but more common in adults.

Tuberculosis has been steadily declining in California and the nation since 1993, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Public health officials believe most exposures come from travelers entering the U.S., especially from Mexico and the Philippines, who unknowingly carry the bacteria.

But there’s good news for those who come down with the disease. “New treatment exists that is much less onerous to the patient,” Laura McCasland, spokeswoman for the County Public Health office, said Sunday.

Instead of taking pills for up to a year or more, an active tuberculosis patient may be able to finish a round of medication in six months. People with latent TB can ask for a 12-dose treatment, taking medication just once a week for three months.

Whatever bacteria the patient may have spread at Florin High school is no longer contagious, Kasirye said. The student is at home, in seclusion, with a medication regimen being monitored by a visiting public nurse.

Call The Bee’s Cynthia H. Craft, (916) 321-1270.