TB Cluster Triggers Mass Testing at Texas High School

tuberculosis
Spencer Platt/Getty
Fort Bend, TX

Texas officials hope to contain the spread of tuberculosis (TB) and avoid a serious health threat by conducting a second round of mass testing at a Houston-area high school where, in recent weeks, the number of people that tested positive for the infection jumped from four to six and now, 10.

In a press release Thursday, Fort Bend County Health and Human Services (HHS) revealed the results of a first round of mass TB testing triggered by the May 30 disclosure that four individuals at George Bush High School tested TB positive and at least one of these cases was active and contagious.

On June 14, the Fort Bend Independent School District sent letters and emails to 647 students and 27 faculty members identified at-risk for potential TB exposure from one of the four previously infected Bush High cases. The correspondences summoned these hundreds of students on summer break to come back to school for testing on June 19, KHOU reported.

County public health officials revealed that last week’s round of testing netted six new positive diagnoses of TB, bringing the current total number of cases to 10, according to the press release. Fort Bend HHS did not say if any of the newly diagnosed cases had active TB or share any information on “patient zero.” However, they noted “only a disappointing 228 individuals,” or only one third of students, showed up for testing.

As a result, Fort Bend HHS announced they will hold another round of testing on August 3. They advised “all 647 students and 27 faculty who were previously notified must attend the testing on that date” unless they tested on June 19.

TB is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The illness spreads from the coughs, sneezes, wheezes and other respiratory fluids of a person with an active infection. While typically considered a lung disease, it can affect other organs in the body. Health officials say it takes prolonged and close contact with an affected person to catch TB. Not everyone who tests positive for TB gets sick. When this happens, the bacteria is considered to be dormant or latent. A person with active TB will manifest symptoms such as chest pain, muscle fatigue, weight loss, lethargy, and coughing up blood. TB can spread rapidly when the bacteria becomes active, Breitbart Texas reported.

Fort Bend HHS says it plans to issue preventative medication to all those exposed to the individuals who tested TB positive but do not show symptoms. The infection is curable with proper treatment, although some strains are drug resistant.

In February, Fort Bend ISD reported a suspected TB case at Clements High; nearby El Campo ISD reported another possible case at one of their high schools. In April, 65 senior citizens tested positive at an El Paso at an adult day care center. In May, the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District confirmed one active case at Page Middle School. Last year, San Antonio health officials announced one person tested positive for TB at Lanier High.

In 2015, Texas reported 1,334 cases of TB of which 51 percent of infection were among Hispanics, 19 percent were Blacks, 10 percent Whites, and 20 percent were Asians. Harris County accounted for 327 cases followed by Dallas County with 180, and Bexar County with 83. Fort Bend County had the least number of TB cases, 27, in the state.

TB rates are higher along the Texas-Mexico border. In 2015, nine people were diagnosed with multi-drug resistant TB but no cases were extremely drug resistant, the most difficult form to treat.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 2015 U.S. case rates in foreign-born persons (15.1 cases per 100,000 people) was about 13 times higher than U.S.-born people (1.2 cases per 100,000).

Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.

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