It is the first confirmed case of tuberculosis in the Richmond County School System in recent memory, according to East Central Health District Director Ketty Gonzalez.
Two additional students close to the patient also had chest X-rays that showed evidence of the disease, but the test results are still pending confirmation, Gonzalez said.
Officials will continue testing all Butler students through Wednesday. Gonzalez said that tuberculosis is a treatable disease compared to more common illnesses, though, and that the community should not panic over the single confirmed case.
“I think the media has gotten into ‘Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,’” Gonzalez said. “Well, we should get ‘Oh my God’ with HIV, too. I think that maybe it’s history, that in the past people with TB died and maybe that stays in peoples’ minds. … Well, nowadays, we have so many medications that TB is a treatable disease.”
Officials conducted skin tests on 196 students Monday and about 200 students last week. Several tests came back positive for tuberculosis bacteria, but Gonzalez said that does not mean the bacteria came from this confirmed case or will even develop into the disease.
Tuberculosis bacteria can be spread through the air but can be contained in the body for years without ever showing symptoms.
Ninety percent of people exposed to tuberculosis bacteria “live normal lives” and never develop the disease, Gonzalez said.
The next step after a positive skin test would be a chest X-ray to determine if the bacteria spread into the lungs.
When a chest X-ray comes back with indications of the disease, as with the other two students, further testing of the mucus is necessary.
Gonzalez said it might take three weeks for officials to receive the results of those two students, who spent time with the patient in and outside of school.
In Richmond County, there have been about four tuberculosis cases in the last several years, Gonzalez said.
In 2010, an Augusta State University student had to remain in Spain during a study abroad trip when she was diagnosed with tuberculosis.
According to 2010 data, the most recent available, the standard positivity rate for tuberculosis in Richmond County is 15 percent, meaning 15 percent of people in a large, public place would test positive for tuberculosis bacteria.
Gonzalez could not provide the positivity rate for those tested so far at Butler, but said officials will have more information in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, Gonzalez said, there is no need for the community to panic or fear any kind of “epidemic.”
She said that, if anything, the community should fear things such as infant mortality and heart disease, not tuberculosis.