Student may have tuberculosis

FRIDAY, MARCH 6, 2009, 9:53 A.M.

Roosevelt second-grader’s classmates are urged to undergo blood tests

The possibility that a second-grader at Roosevelt Elementary has tuberculosis has prompted an investigation by health officials who are asking her classmates and other students who ride the same school bus to undergo blood tests.

The Spokane Regional Health District sent letters home with children who attend the public school at 14th Avenue and Bernard Street.

There is no vaccine to guard against tuberculosis, though antibiotics are available to treat it, said Julie Tomaro, a registered nurse and TB program coordinator for the health district.

The student has undergone tests that indicate she may be infected. The last and definitive test may require several weeks for results.

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection spread through the air. It usually affects the lungs, Tomaro said, though it can affect other parts of the body such as the nervous system, bones, brain and spine.

It’s relatively uncommon in the United States, but if left untreated it can become deadly. There are about eight cases in Spokane each year.

Because this case could involve scores of young students, health officials are strongly urging students, teachers and staff at Roosevelt to have blood tests rather than the less-accurate skin tests. The blood tests, which quickly rule out false positives and false negatives for TB, are free for these adults and students at the health district. Information about setting up appointments was included in the letters.

Concerned parents with children in other classrooms can call the health district or their own health care providers for testing.

The disease remains a leading global killer. A third of the world’s population is infected with TB. It kills about 2 million people each year.

In the early 1900s, TB caused the death of one out of every seven people in the United States and Europe, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Medicines decreased TB deaths over the ensuing decades.

When the occurrence of TB cases began to climb again 30 years ago, research and education dollars again took aim at the disease and brought the numbers back down.

Today, many of the cases of TB are in people born in other countries where testing isn’t as sophisticated or readily available.

Health district spokeswoman Julie Graham said casual exposure to TB does not lead to infection in most people. Also, she said, the spread of infection at Roosevelt may be stunted because children don’t have the lung capacity to cough or sneeze hard enough to spray the bacteria very far.

Children who may be at risk of TB infection at Roosevelt will have to be rechecked in about eight weeks. Children often don’t display the symptoms as strongly as adults. Symptoms include a bloody cough, fever, night sweats, weight loss and other problems.

TB becomes deadly when the bacteria attack the body and destroy tissue. In some cases this damages the lungs, even creating a hole.

The Spokane Regional Health District works with state health officials and local medical providers to control TB by ensuring that people at risk get evaluation and treatment.

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