After a doctor recognized tuberculosis symptoms in a Butler student in October, Richmond County Health Department officials asked only teachers and students who had direct contact with the patient to take a skin test.
When more people outside that direct circle went forward for a test, perhaps out of an overreaction to the scare, their results bloated what is considered to be a normal positivity rate, said district nursing and clinical director Tammy Burdeaux.
“It’s just important that everybody is on the same page and we test who needs to be tested,” Burdeaux said.
Health department officials will test Butler students from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday at no charge.
They will return next Thursday and Friday to read the results of the skin tests and advise students on how to proceed.
About 200 people have been tested, and though some tests have come back positive for exposure to the bacteria, no one has tested positive for tuberculosis itself, Burdeaux said.
The results for the initial student in question are still pending, and she has not yet been diagnosed with tuberculosis.
Not everyone exposed to the tuberculosis germ becomes sick or develops the disease, Burdeaux said. According to 2010 data, the most recent available, the standard positivity rate for tuberculosis in Richmond County is 15 percent.
“If you went out anywhere, to Walmart or somewhere, 15 percent of the people could test positive,” Burdeaux said.
The next step after a positive skin test is a chest X-ray to see whether the infection spread to the lungs.
Rae Frazier, a 10th-grader at Butler, said she had to receive an X-ray on Friday after testing positive but was given a negative diagnosis for the disease.
Rae said some students have been wearing masks in the hallways and even staged a protest Friday morning, arguing that officials should close the school and decontaminate the buildings.
“It’s scary, and the kids don’t want to get it,” Rae said. “Parents are upset, and I would be, too, because (parents) think they should be doing more. It’s not something you’d want to get.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tuberculosis is a bacteria that affects the lungs and can be spread through coughing, sneezing or speaking. Its symptoms are a severe cough, fatigue and weight loss.
Dr. Peter Rissing, a professor of medicine and a hospital epidemiologist at Georgia Health Sciences University, said in an earlier interview that for about 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.
For the rest who see the bacteria spread to the lungs, the disease is fought with a series of drugs and is “a very treatable disease.”
About 10,500 cases of tuberculosis were reported in the U.S. in 2011, according to the CDC. Despite its treatability, it is the third-leading cause of death in the world and caused 1.4 million deaths in 2011.
Butler High School Principal Greg Thompson and health department tuberculosis coordinator Kim Taylor-Brown held information sessions for all Butler students about the disease and next week’s testing.
Thompson said it is important for students to get the facts on the issue and to get their consent forms signed by parents so they can be tested.
“Basically, we wanted to give them an update on the situation here at the school and educate them on TB as well as squash any rumors going around,” he said.