More TB Testing Ordered in Texas Border City School

Tuberculosis (Karin Schermbrucker / Associated Press)
Karin Schermbrucker / Associated Press

A Texas border city’s public health officials expanded their tuberculosis (TB) testing and investigation after nearly three dozen students and staff tested positive at an elementary school and an unrelated case emerged at an area halfway house.

Previously, Breitbart Texas reported that 163 elementary school children and eight staffers from Frank Macias Elementary in the Crain Independent School District were tested for possible tuberculosis (TB) exposure by El Paso city health officials.

This new group of 100 Frank Macias Elementary students and staffers are testing through the end of the week. KFOX-14 reported that 40 are students. The remainder are school employees who may have come into contact with someone who has active tuberculosis.

So far, 149 of the original 163 were tested, netting 29 students with positive TB results. Two others are pending and eight youngsters have not been tested, according to local health officials. Six of the eight adults tested positive for the infectious bacterial illness.

During a press conference late Monday, Bruce Parsons, assistant health director for the City of El Paso Department of Public Health, appealed to the parents of those eight school children to test them.

“This was a serious exposure and we need to know the outcome of those test results in order to know what the next steps will be for those children and those families,” said Parsons.

He identified Texas as one of four states with “higher rates of international exchange of people,” which accounts for 51 percent of US tuberculosis cases. The other states are New York, California, and Florida.

“Our rate of TB cases is roughly double the nation’s,” noted Parsons of El Paso’s 5.9 cases per 100,000 people. He cited the 2013 national rate as 3 cases per 100,000 people and the Texas rate at 4.6 cases. He called El Paso’s TB rate consistent with other “border communities.”

It is a treatable bacterial disease, he said, advising there is no need to sequester active cases like was done years ago when TB was the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

KDBC-4 reported that no one knows yet if any of those who tested positive have symptoms. For tuberculosis to spread, it must be active. Parsons said that children under the age of 10 rarely transmit TB and are more of a danger to themselves than to the community.

Local pediatrician Hector Ocaranza also spoke to reporters. He said that the 35 who tested positive from the initial blood test will now undergo chest X-rays and physical exams to look for active TB.

TB tends to affect the lungs, although it can also attack other organs like the kidneys, spine, and brain. Symptoms in children and adults include cough, feelings of sickness or weakness, lethargy, weight loss or failure to thrive, fever, and/or night sweats.

TB spreads through the air when an infected adult with active TB sneezes, speaks, or sings. People may breathe in the bacteria particles and contract the illness.

“We need to stress to parents not to be concerned that [the children] already have the active disease,” said Ocaranza. “They may have been exposed before and that’s why they react positively.”

Ocaranza is hopeful they will not find any active cases among the children as they continue testing. However, the health department will provide the medications that treat TB should active cases present themselves.

The source of the tuberculosis is unknown. Ocaranza noted that it is extremely difficult to say who transmitted the tuberculosis since school is out for summer.

A separate TB investigation emerged at the Dismas Charities halfway house in El Paso this week. KFOX-14 reported that up to 200 adults may have been exposed to an active tuberculosis case. A person at the facility tested positive for the illness. So far, 170 adults were tested and health officials expect those results early next week.

Parsons said that the elementary school and the halfway house tuberculosis investigations are not linked.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.


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