News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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May 30, 2012

TB testing under way at Woodrow Wilson

About 700 middle school students, staff tested; results to be checked Thursday before summer break

TERRE HAUTE — Woodrow Wilson Middle School seventh-grader Ty Lautenschlager probably wasn’t eager to have a needle injected into his arm Tuesday for a tuberculosis skin test.

“It’s like any other test — it has to be done sometimes,” he said. “It stung a little,” but  didn’t really hurt that much.

He recognized the testing was important “to be safe,” he said.

He wasn’t alone in getting tested. About 700 Woodrow Wilson students and employees underwent free testing, and they will have to be checked Thursday for results.

The clinic was quickly organized last week in response to a suspected TB case at the school.

The Vigo County Health Department and Vigo County School Corp. collaborated to organize the clinic, which officials wanted to conduct before school ends. Students’ last day is Thursday  — the same day results must be checked.

The TB skin test was encouraged, but not mandatory, and students needed permission from parents or guardians. The Health Department was the lead agency in responding to the suspected TB case.

“Today has been an amazing collaboration to test over 700 students and staff for TB,” said Joni Foulkes, Vigo County Health Department administrator.

Nurses who administered the skin tests were averaging 24 kids every six minutes, she said. Student testing was mostly complete by around 11:30 a.m.

Woodrow Wilson staff and the school district administrative staff “did an awesome job” of organizing the process for testing so many people, she said.

The number of students and staff agreeing to be tested was greater than expected. Up to 1,000 could have been tested, and Foulkes expected a response rate of about half. To have 700 tested “was a great response,” she said.

Health officials will return Thursday to check test results, “which will help us decide how we further the investigation and/or how to address the situation,” Foulkes said.

For anyone who might test positive, the next step would likely be further testing, such as a chest X-ray. Depending on who and how many might test positive, that would determine who else might be tested, Foulkes said.

Nurses from the state and county health departments, school district and others from the Wabash Valley participated in the clinic.

The Vigo County Health Department will do any required follow-up, said Carol Lucas, VCSC nursing chairwoman. “This is under their jurisdiction,” she said.

Lucas noted the school district has had much experience in recent years organizing major clinics for state-required immunizations and for H1N1 flu shots.

“It’s a little bit more of a challenge at the end of the school year, when you have programs,” Lucas said. On Thursday, Woodrow Wilson will have its eighth-grade graduation. “We’ll be working around that,” she said.

Assistant Principal Bruce Lautenschlager said parents were surprised and concerned when they learned about the suspected TB case. But primarily, they wanted information.

“In today’s environment, you don’t think a lot about tuberculosis. It kind of brought back to the forefront how something like that can take place very quickly,” said Lautenschlager, who also is Ty’s father.

A TB skin test determines whether a person has TB infection. The test is usually done on the arm, and a small needle is used to put some testing material, called tuberculin, under the skin. In two or three days, a health worker checks to see if there is a reaction to the test.

The test is “positive” if a bump about the size of a pencil eraser or bigger appears on the arm. The bump means a person probably has 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.

Both TB infection and active TB disease are treatable, health authorities say.

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

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