The Richmond County Health Department is testing students for tuberculosis exposure this week at the third high school in about a year.
An A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet School student tested positive for the bacteria Monday during routine TB testing required for clinical work study, according to assistant superintendent of student services Carol Rountree.
The student was removed from school, and all students and faculty who had direct contact with the student will be given skin tests Friday.
In September, about 11 people at Glenn Hills High School tested positive for tuberculosis bacteria out of 119 students and faculty initially tested after a student there showed signs of the disease to a doctor. The health department returned to do two more rounds of tests, but spokesman Emmitt L. Walker on Wednesday could not provide an updated number of confirmed cases.
In October 2012, 578 people at Butler High School were tested for tuberculosis after a student also showed signs of the disease. Of those, 136 tested positive for the bacteria, and three later were confirmed to have the disease.
According to Georgia Department of Public Health media relations manager Nancy Nydam, tuberculosis is not a common illness in Georgia. Currently, the TB rate is currently around three cases per 100,000 persons, with more than half of confirmed cases reported in the Atlanta area.
Between 2007 and 2010, the most recent data available, there were 20 confirmed TB cases in Richmond County, five in Columbia County and 919 in the state, according to the Department of Health database.
Being the largest in size, Richmond County had the highest number of cases during that time period among the 13 counties that make up the East Central Health District.
Tuberculosis is a disease that primarily attacks the lungs and is spread through coughing, sneezing and breathing. People with compromised immune systems, like those with HIV or living in homeless shelters or prisons, are particularly susceptible to the disease.
The vast majority of people who contract TB bacteria do not develop the disease, which causes illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In most cases, the body fights off the bacteria or it remains dormant for a number of years.
People with latent, or inactive, TB can receive treatment to prevent the disease from developing. The disease is also highly curable but requires extensive treatment over the course of nearly nine months, which must be taken correctly and followed through, according to the CDC.
Students are being tested with standard skin tests, which injects a liquid under the skin and must be checked within 48-hours for raised bumps. In confirmed cases, a chest X-ray is required to detect the disease.
Rountree said despite the spike of cases in Richmond County schools, parents should not worry about an outbreak. An information session was held at A.R. Johnson on Tuesday to inform parents about the process, and families will continue to be updated about the developments.
“It’s unusual for us, but it’s not really unusual as I talk with people from other (school) districts,” she said. “We’ve just been fortunate that until now it’s been so many years since we’ve had a case. Everyone considers this to be a rarity, but it’s not.”