Contagious Airborne Diseases Appear in Schools Across Texas

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Highly contagious airborne diseases–tuberculosis (TB) and measles–surfaced in three Texas public school districts located in different parts of the state, although officials have not identified the origins of these cases.

In Harris County, Houston Independent School District officials confirmed one case of tuberculosis at Sugar Grove Academy Middle School. The student, according to ABC-TV affiliate KTRK, was diagnosed, treated, and is recovering. The contagious airborne pulmonary infection can spread rapidly once the bacteria becomes active because an individual will manifest symptoms. Not everyone infected exhibits tell-tale signs of the reputed lung illness if the bacteria remains dormant. Earlier this week, the school district sent its parents a letter to say they continue to monitor the situation. The middle school said potentially affected children may need to be TB tested. Those families will receive a separate letter and consent form by Feb. 1.

On Friday evening, Jan. 22, Sugar Grove Academy Middle School held a meeting for concerned parents. Even though one tuberculosis case can potentially affect many of its enrolled families, including those with children in other of the district’s schools, officials did not release information about the child who brought the transmittable disease onto the campus, remaining tight-lipped “in an effort to protect the privacy of the child,” KHOU-TV reported. The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects student records confidentiality.

Between late June and early July 2015, border school district El Paso ISD recalled a total of 203 Frank Macias Elementary School students and 68 staffers in from summer vacation for TB testing after possible exposure to a case that broke out before the end of the school year. Also last summer, one TB case at an East Texas community college quickly spread to 60 exposed people.

TB spreads when an infected person with an active case sneezes, speaks, sneezes, coughs, sings and other people breathe in the bacteria particles, contracting the disease. Younger children manifest a milder TB strain than adults, called pediatric tuberculosis, although when infected, youngsters’ ailments appear more quickly, including cough, feelings of sickness or weakness, lethargy, and/or reduced playfulness, weight loss or failure to thrive, fever, and/or nightsweats.

The World Health Organization (WHO) traced over 95 percent of TB cases to individuals in developing countries. Anyone can contract TB, although it is more likely to be diagnosed in people born in a foreign country where pulmonary infection is prevalent.

In 2014, the Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS) accounted for 1,269 TB cases statewide at a rate of 4.7 per 100,000 population. TDSHS identified that 55 percent of these cases were among Hispanics, 18 percent, African Americans; 9 percent, Caucasians; and 18 percent, Asians. Harris County led the state with 320 reported TB cases at a rate of 7.2 per 100,000 population. Between 2010-14, Harris County only reported higher rates in 2010 with 339 cases.

By comparison, in 2013, TDSHS reported 1,222 Texas TB cases at a rate of 4.6 per 100,000 population, of which 51 percent of cases were among Hispanics, 19 percent, African Americans; 14 percent, Caucasians; and 16 percent, Asians. Harris County contributed 287 of these cases at a rate of 6.6 per 100,000 population. TB rates are reportedly higher along the Texas-Mexico border. Co-infection with TB and diabetes is more prevalent along the border than in the rest of Texas.

An unrelated second active case of tuberculosis emerged over the weekend in the Dallas area. Friday evening, Lewisville ISD principals at adjoining Hebron High and Hebron 9th Grade Center campuses notified parents by letter, according to CBS DFW (KTVT-TV). It stated, in part, medical officials informed the district “there is a very low probability of this student being contagious. No other students or staff members have tested positive or have been diagnosed with active TB, but we wanted you to be aware of the situation.” The Denton County Health Department is involved.

Nearby in Collin County, Plano ISD officials confirmed one case of measles. The Collin County Health Care Services sent home a letter to Schell Elementary School families on Jan. 12 stating anyone at the school on Jan. 5 “could have had exposure to the case.” Dr. Jawaid Ashghar, chief epidemiologist at Collin County Health Care Services, sourced the case to an unvaccinated student who recently traveled to a foreign country. Neither he nor the school district provided any other information about student zero.

The letter from Collin County health officials advised that the illness is highly contagious. Like TB, it is airborne and spreads through respiratory droplets. Symptoms are a rash, fever of 101 degrees or higher, runny nose, and even, eye redness. The county’s health department warned: “even vaccinated contacts, should monitor themselves for measles symptoms” from five though 21 days after exposure. They noted individuals with weakened immune systems and/or are unvaccinated are at a higher rate of complications from measles. Last year, measles made headlines during the Disneyland outbreak, which spread across the country.

Letter From Collin County Health Care Services

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.


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