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27 People At Olathe High School Test Positive For TB

Updated at 1:07 p.m.

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 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 contract tuberculosis 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 number “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.”

Chest x-rays on the 27 will be used to determine whether they have the TB bacteria in their lungs, at which point it becomes contagious.

“We anticipate they do not, because they are not symptomatic,” Marsh said.

In the meantime, Marsh said they will continue to attend school because asymptomatic carriers are not contagious. Marsh said the initial symptoms of full-blown tuberculosis disease are a persistent cough coupled with other factors like fever and general fatigue.

“Our staff has been having conversations with all the families of the 27 who tested positive,” Marsh said.

Marsh said for the rest of the Olathe Northwest community it should be business as usual.

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. Marsh said she could not say whether that was the case with the tuberculosis first identified at Olathe Northwest a few weeks ago.

“We do not know that,” Marsh said. “We do know the individual that has the disease is responding to treatment.”

Tuberculosis treatments can sometimes include months of antibiotics, but catching the infection before it reaches the lungs is key.

“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.”

Andy Marso is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.

Andy Marso is a reporter for KCUR 89.3 and the Kansas News Service based in Topeka.
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