Schools at Center of Sacramento Tuberculosis Outbreak

A recent outbreak of tuberculosis (TB) in Sacramento has been linked to a student at Grant Union High School, who tested positive for the infectious disease this past February.

Since February, four more students were found to have contracted the disease.  These students were not labeled as active cases until chest x-rays confirmed the results just this past month, with one only being labeled as active this past week.

It takes three related cases to reach outbreak status according to the Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services.  In addition to the students, four relatives and friends of the first student to contract the disease have also tested positive, bringing the outbreak total to nine reported cases.

The Associated Press reports that such outbreaks are not uncommon for the area.  In the past year the county has seen 90 active TB cases, although most of these were adults.

“It is higher than we usually get for most of our investigations,” Sacramento County Public Health Officer Olivia 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.”

TB is an airborne, sometimes-fatal infectious disease, affecting the lungs.  About 1 in 10 dormant infections will progress to the active stage, the only form of TB that is contagious.  Active TB has a fatality rate of about 50% when left untreated.  Symptoms include a chronic blood-tinged cough, fever, sweating, and weight loss.  Treatment requires taking multiple antibiotics over a period of 6-9 months.

As of 2007, there were 13.7 million reported cases globally, with 1% of the world’s population becoming infected each year.  Most of these cases occur in developing countries, with only 5-10% affecting the US.

Parents who had not heard of the most recent active cases are complaining about the lack of communication from the health department and school district.  One student only found out about the cases through a friend on Instagram, writes Diana Lambert for The Sacramento Bee.

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.”

The Sacramento County Public Health Department began an increased screening of students this June.  So far, 452 students have gone through the process, identifying 120 as positive for exposure to the dormant form of TB, which has no symptoms but can become active after a long period of time, according to Kevin Oliver for KCRA News.  24 of the students have completed treatment, 55 are currently being treated, and 30 will need additional testing to see if they have active TB.   Those requiring additional testing will not be allowed to return to school until the testing is complete.

According to Tess Maune for News on 6, a similar case was reported at the William Gay Early Childhood Development Center in Oklahoma.  Details about the person who tested positive are not being released, but students and staff are being urged to get tested.  Dr. Charles Hardey reported about 150,000 people in Oklahoma are TB positive but will never know.

“Most people never, ever develop active contagious tuberculosis,” Dr. Charles Hardey said. “Most people that are infected live their entire lives and enjoy things like you and I do and never have a problem with it.”