News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

May 22, 2012

After possible TB case, school faces health tests

TERRE HAUTE — A suspected case of tuberculosis at Woodrow Wilson Middle School has prompted health authorities to provide free TB testing next Tuesday for students and staff at the eastside Terre Haute school.

Testing is encouraged, but not mandatory, and students must have information/consent forms signed by parents or guardians. The Vigo County Health Department will administer the testing.

Tuberculosis is a disease caused by germs that are spread from person to person through the air. TB usually affects the lungs, but it can also affect other parts of the body.

Parents were to be notified by auto-dial messages Monday, and information/consent cards about the testing are being sent home with all students today.

“We’re on a very tight time crunch,” said Joni Foulkes, Vigo County Health Department administrator, during a news conference Monday. She was joined by Carol Lucas, nursing chairwoman with the Vigo County School Corp.

Foulkes said people shouldn’t panic, but it is important for Woodrow Wilson students and employees to be tested.

While the case has not been confirmed as active tuberculosis, health officials are being pro-active because the school year will be ending in less than two weeks. Students’ last day of school is May 31. Also, school is not in session Friday or Monday, which is Memorial Day.

The testing won’t occur until next Tuesday because information/consent cards must go out and come back to the school, and health officials and the school district must work out logistics and obtain supplies. Also, when someone receives a tuberculin skin test, 48 to 72 hours must elapse before health care workers can check for a reaction on the arm.

Health officials anticipate testing up to 1,000 individuals on May 29 at the school, and they will check results May 31 to see if students or staff have positive tests, Foulkes said.

They ask that students return signed information cards by Thursday.

Foulkes said the suspect case involves either a Woodrow Wilson “employee or student,” but she would not specify.

“I want to stress that the case is a suspect case. It has not been confirmed, but it’s important to the school corporation and the health department to capture and test the students” while they are still in school, she said.

The health department became aware of the situation Monday through its work with the Indiana Department of Health and notification by a physician. Various steps are involved in confirming an active TB case, and the suspect case is “in the final step,” which involves confirmation of a culture that takes about two weeks.

“We don’t want to wait two weeks,” when school will be over, Foulkes said.

The person suspected of having the disease is no longer at the school, Foulkes officials said. It is safe for students and employees to attend and work at Woodrow Wilson, she said.

The TB tests, which will be free to Woodrow Wilson students and staff, are provided by the state Department of Health and the local health department. “It’s our job to contain disease in our community,” Foulkes said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, people who breathe in air containing TB germs can become infected; this is called latent TB infection.

People with latent TB infection have TB germs in their bodies, but they are not sick because the germs are not active. These people do not have symptoms of TB disease, and they cannot spread the germs to others.

However, they may develop TB disease in the future. They are often prescribed treatment to prevent them from developing TB disease.

People with TB disease are sick from TB germs that are active, meaning that they are multiplying and destroying tissue in their body. They usually have symptoms of TB disease. People with TB disease of the lungs or throat are capable of spreading germs to others. They are prescribed drugs that can treat TB disease.

A positive tuberculin skin test indicates if a person has been infected with TB germs; it does not tell if a person has TB disease.

Asked about the risk of someone at Woodrow Wilson becoming infected, if the suspect TB case is confirmed, Foulkes said it depends on a person’s age, health circumstances and whether a person’s immunity system is compromised.

“There are so many variables,” she said. With 1,000 people who may be tested, “all those variables come into play,” she said.

Asked whether those who have visited  Woodrow Wilson in recent weeks should be tested, Foulkes said, “Not right now.”

Health authorities first identify those “who might have been in that initial ring of contact,” she said. If there are positive TB tests at the school, that would determine who else might be tested, she said.

She noted that a school “is a highly communicable environment.”

Foulkes said if parents are concerned about the TB test, they should contact their physician. They also can contact the health department at (812) 462-3431.

The test that will be used Tuesday is  “a simple, safe and long-used test,” she said.

Info about tuberculosis

• Knowledge is an important tool against diseases such as TB. To learn more about its current status, visit these websites:

• Centers for Disease Control: www.dcd.gov

• World Health Organization: www.who.int

• Indiana State Department of Health: www.IN.gov/isdh

• Mayo Clinic: wwwmayoclinic.com

• Cleveland Clinic: my.clevelandclinic.org

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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