Health department to test Butler High students for tuberculosis

The Richmond County Health Department is preparing to test Butler High School students Tuesday for tuberculosis after a student showed signs of the disease last week.

The girl visited a doctor at Georgia Health Sciences University, who recognized the symptoms and notified Butler of the situation, according to the department’s public relations information coordinator, Emmitt L. Walker.

Walker said about 10 teachers who had contact with the student were tested at the school Monday. The student has not yet been officially diagnosed with tuberculosis, he said, and the test results might not be available until later this week.

“It’s certainly something that concerns the department,” Walker said. “But it’s not a death sentence by any means. Tuberculosis is fairly common. The idea is if they have been exposed to tuberculosis, we catch it early so we can treat it.”

Butler held a tuberculosis information session Wednesday afternoon to educate parents and students about the disease. Parents are required to sign and return consent waivers for the health department to perform skin tests on students Tuesday.

The skin test involves injecting a liquid into the dermal layer of the skin. After 48 hours, health department employees will return to the school to read the results of the skin test.

Dr. Peter Rissing, a professor of medicine and a hospital epidemiologist at GHSU, said health care providers look for reactions on the skin the injection caused.

If a hard, raised bump appears, the patient could have been exposed to tuberculosis bacteria and a chest X-ray is required to see whether the bacteria spread to the lungs.

Carol Rountree, the Richmond County School System’s director of student services, said the district sent letters to parents Friday notifying them of the situation.

Rountree said those who had immediate contact with the student are considered high priorities and will receive a free test. Other students who wish to be tested might have to pay a minimal fee.

“Our concern has to be for the health and well-being of children at all times,” Rountree said. “We’ve done this before, so we know it’s manageable and everybody will have an opportunity to get what they need, so there’s no need to panic.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tuberculosis is caused by a bacteria that attacks the lungs and can be spread by coughing, sneezing and speaking.

Symptoms can range from chest pain to fatigue to coughing up blood.

Rissing said that tuberculosis is highly treatable when contracted and that the bacteria rarely turns into a disease.

“It is usually a very treatable disease,” Rissing said. “The problem comes when, in fact, somebody has the disease and it typically isn’t managed very well.”

In almost 90 percent of people exposed to tuberculosis, the body recognizes the infection and contains it in the Ghon’s complex of the lung, where it essentially stops, Rissing said.

If the immune system cannot fight the infection, the bacteria can spread to the apex of the lung and the patient can develop tuberculosis. At that point, the disease can be treated with a series of drugs that must be taken consistently, Rissing said.

Patients can test positive in the skin test but not contract the disease. Rissing said that after a positive skin test, a patient usually receives a chest X-ray to see whether the bacteria has spread to the lungs.

If patients test positive for the bacteria but have a clean X-ray, the condition can be treated with a single drug.

“The organism is usually very easy to treat,” he said.

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