Entire SoCal High School to Get Tested for Tuberculosis

Health officials say the likelihood that the illness has spread or will spread is low, but they're not taking any chances

All students and staff at a Southern California high school were tested Friday for tuberculosis after a student contracted the illness and dozens more tested positive for possible exposure, health officials said.

Some 1,394 students and faculty at Indio High School began getting skin tests 8 a.m. Friday, the last day of classes before winter break, according to the Riverside County Health Department.

A student at the Indio campus recently was diagnosed with active tuberculosis, the department said. He is undergoing an intesive antibiotic regimen and is expected to recover.

In all, about 1,800 students and staff likely will be screened for the highly contagious illness. Some have been tested by their own health-care providers, the health department said.

No one will be allowed to be return to school in the new year without proof they've been tested as well as the results of those tests.

Earlier this week, 131 students were screened for the illness and 45 of them tested positive for possible exposure, health officials said, adding that the results do not mean those students have active tuberculosis but that they must undergo further tests.

After follow-up X-rays identified five students who require even more testing, the Riverside County Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser ordered the entire student body and staff at Indio High School get tested "out of an abundance of caution."


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“While the number of those who tested positive is higher than we would expect, that does not mean the illness has spread or will spread,” Kaiser said. “The likelihood of the illness being passed from one person to the next is remote.”

Kaiser said that, at this point, there is no indication that testing will need to be expanded to other schools or parts of the community.

Tuberculosis, or TB, is caused by bacteria that usually attack the lungs, but it can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine, and brain, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If not treated with a months-long antibiotic regimen, TB can be fatal.

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The illness is spread through the air when a person with tuberculosis of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks or sings, secreting bacteria through their mouths which then can be breathed in by others.

Last month, health officials in Los Angeles County said they were investigating a single case of the highly contagious illness found at a Glendale jewelry manufacturer.

Some 9,945 cases of TB were reported in the U.S. in 2012, marking a 5.4 percent decrease from the year before, according to the latest statistics available from the CDC.

California, Texas, New York and Florida accounted for half of last year’s total cases of TB nationwide, the report found.

This year, there have been at least two TB outbreaks in the Southland.

The contagious disease was found in LA’s homeless population in February. A month later, hundreds of students and staff at Cal Poly Pomona were urged to take a TB skin test after a student at the school tested positive for tuberculosis.

Symptoms of TB include a bad cough that lasts three weeks or longer, chest pain, coughing up blood, weakness or fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, chills, fever and night sweats, according to the CDC.

A vaccine against the disease is not widely used in the U.S., but is often given to infants and children in other countries where TB is common, the CDC said.

Those who think they’ve been exposed to the disease are urged to contact their doctor or local health department to determine if testing is necessary. Not everyone infected with the TB bacterium comes sick, the agency said.

NBC4's Tony Shin contributed to this report.

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