State and county health officials will provide free chest x-rays and antibiotics to more than two dozen Olathe Northwest High School students and staff who have tested positive for tuberculosis.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment teamed up to test more than 300 people at Olathe Northwest after a student there contracted turberculosis earlier this month. Twenty-seven, or about 8 percent, tested positive.
Lougene Marsh, director of the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, said that “does not exceed what we would anticipate” in a school setting. “Of course, we had hoped we wouldn’t find any additional TB cases, but we knew this was a possibility,” Marsh said.
“That’s why we took such thorough steps to test everyone who might have been in close contact with the first confirmed case of TB disease.” A second blood test for the 300-plus close contacts is scheduled for May 5, because tuberculosis bacteria can sometimes take up to eight weeks to show up on the test.
TB is spread through the air via coughing, sneezing, speaking or singing, according to the CDC. Symptoms include a bad cough that lasts three weeks or longer, pain in the chest, coughing up blood or sputum, weakness or fatigue, weight loss, no appetite, chills, fever and sweating at night.
Kansas recorded 40 cases in 2014 and 36 in 2013. The illness is potentially serious and can be antibiotic-resistant, but those infected are not contagious until they are symptomatic and there are effective treatments, though in some cases they include months of antibiotics.
Chest x-rays will be used to determine whether the TB bacteria is in the lungs, at which point it becomes contagious. “Early identification and treatment of TB infection is the key to preventing progression to TB disease,” Marsh said. “That’s why we are working so closely with the school and KDHE to investigate this case and assure that all precautions are being taken for the safety of everyone in the school and the community.”