© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

4 more people test positive for tuberculosis at an Olathe high school

A 3-D, computer-generated image of drug-resistant, Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria, the pathogen responsible for causing the tuberculosis disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Public Health Image Library
CDC on Unsplash
A computer-generated image of tuberculosis bacteria, the pathogen infecting people at an Olathe high school.

Health officials announced an active tuberculosis case at Olathe Northwest High School in early October. Now, four other people tested positive for the bacteria.

A Johnson County health department official confirmed Tuesday that four more people tested positive for tuberculosis at Olathe Northwest High School after a student tested positive earlier this month. The spokesperson for the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment would not say whether the new cases are students or staff.

Earlier this month, health officials identified 425 close contacts of the first active case that need to be tested. So far, only 273 of those contacts have been tested.

The district did not immediately respond to questions about the new cases.

According to the CDC, there are two types of tuberculosis: latent tuberculosis and tuberculosis disease. With latent tuberculosis, people are not contagious and do not have symptoms. With the active form of the disease, people experience symptoms such as a severe cough, chest pain and weight loss and can spread tuberculosis.

Dr. Dana Hawkinson is the medical director of infection and prevention at the University of Kansas Health System. Earlier this month, he told the Kansas News Service that latent tuberculosis can reside in a person’s body for years.

“If you have a positive test, it could just mean you have latent tuberculosis. So in that case, what we do is we give you medicine so that one year, two years, five years, 10 years, 20 years down the line, you don't develop that active infection,” Hawkinson said.

Hawkinson said it can take weeks to test positive for the bacteria after being exposed to tuberculosis. Because of this, people need to be tested more than once. Health officials have said there will be more tuberculosis testing at the school in mid-November.

Like COVID-19, tuberculosis is an airborne disease. But Hawkinson said it is harder to catch.

“If you’re on a bus with somebody and maybe they have it. You’re on there for 10 minutes and get off at the next stop, that’s probably not enough exposure to have an infection from that,” he said.

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga reports on health disparities in access and health outcomes in both rural and urban areas.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.