Outbreak in the IE
By Alex Distefano
The Riverside County Department of Public Health has had its hands full in the past couple of months, with tuberculosis scares at two IE area high school campuses that has affected around 1,400 students and staff at Indio High School and many more others at Vista Murietta High School.
This story, which included a series of possible outbreaks and subsequent skin tests, was in the national headlines and all over online news and media various outlets last week. L.A. news station NBC 4 reported over Christmas that the entire student body and staff were tested at Indio High, which at the time was around 1,400 people in all, with an estimated 400 more to be tested if necessary.
Both NBC and CNN reported that earlier in the week, of 131 students tested at Indo High, 45 tests came back with possible exposure to tuberculosis, which is also known as TB. This was confirmed by the Riverside County Department: “45 students tested positive for possible exposure to the illness,” according to a press release. “Someone who is exposed does not necessarily have active tuberculosis, a condition that must be confirmed with more tests.”
Tuberculosis (TB) is a nasty bacterial infection that can attack the lungs hardest, but can also infect any organ, including the liver, spine, kidneys and brain. Usually TB can be treated with antibiotics but if left untreated it can be deadly. It is a pathogen that is spread into the air when an infected person sneezes and others breathe it in. Symptoms of TB include hacking cough with phlegm for more than a month, fevers, chills, pain in the chest, coughing up blood, difficult breathing and extreme flu symptoms, night sweats and weight loss.
Of the 45 students who tested as a possible exposure, according to Dr. Cameron Kaiser, public health officer for Riverside County, it does not mean a positive test result. The students will have to get chest X-Rays, have further medical checkups and be treated if necessary.
On Oct. 31, according to the local news website Patch, a Vista Murrieta High School student had also been diagnosed with active tuberculosis, and that case also had County health officials on top of things investigating who might have been exposed to the illness and doing the proper testing. In the Vista Murrieta case, according to a statement by the county, “The student is expected to make a full recovery, but will not return to school until a medical clearance is issued. The student is not being identified due to confidentiality laws and requirements.
In both stories, media reports are still unclear but at least one student at Indio was confirmed to have active TB, according to Kaiser, but the tests were out of safety for students who might have been unknowingly exposed to TB. Like the case out of Vista Murietta, the student in question is expected to recover fully from the bacteria infection.
And now, according to Kaiser, the rate of positive test results of all those tested came back, and are within the normal levels.
“Given this population, we would expect a positive test result of no more than 10 to 15 percent,” Kaiser said. “These numbers are very reassuring for the community as a whole. The health department will follow up with those who tested positive for exposure.”
It was because of this low rate of possible exposure that Kaiser said he feels the likelihood of the illness spreading remains low. According to news reports and statements by the County Health Department, School officials made it mandatory, that all students and staff show proof of their tests, and the results, before returning to the school after winter vacation in 2014.