Health officials in Kansas and Johnson County report that 8 percent (27) of the 300 students and staff tested for tuberculosis (TB) at Olathe Northwest High School.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria/CDC
Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria/CDC

“The number of individuals with TB infection does not exceed what we would anticipate in this setting,” said Lougene Marsh, director of the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment. “Of course, we had hoped we wouldn’t find any additional TB cases, but we knew this was a possibility. That’s why we took such thorough steps to test everyone who might have been in close contact with the first confirmed case of TB disease.”

Health officials began calling those with TB positive test results on Monday and letters were mailed to the homes of those with negative test results (no infection).

“Early identification and treatment of TB infection is the key to preventing progression to TB disease,” said Marsh. “That’s why we are working so closely with the school and KDHE to investigate this case and assure that all precautions are being taken for the safety of everyone in the school and the community.”

In response to the TB outbreak, Dr. Albert A. Rizzo, senior medical advisor of the American Lung Association, released the following statement:

“The recent outbreak of tuberculosis among students in Kansas has drawn attention to a very serious disease that should not be taken lightly. TB is an infectious disease that usually infects the lungs, but can attack almost any part of the body. Tuberculosis is spread from person to person through the air. If another person breathes in these germs, there is a chance that they will become infected with tuberculosis. However, it is not easy to become infected with tuberculosis. Usually a person has to be close to someone with active TB disease for a long period of time.

“If it is not treated, TB can be fatal. But TB can almost always be treated and cured if you take medicine as directed by your healthcare provider. Once you begin treatment, within weeks you will no longer be contagious.

“Not everyone who is infected with the TB germ develops TB disease. TB infection can remain dormant for years or a person’s whole life. Some people are at a greater risk of TB infection becoming active TB disease, including babies and young children, older adults, people who have other disease that weaken the immune system, and those who were infected with the TB bacteria in the last 2 years.

“Americans should listen to public health officials and seek immediate medical attention from their healthcare provider if they show symptoms of the disease, including a persistent cough, constant fatigue, weight loss and loss of appetite, fever, coughing up blood and night sweats.”

Blood tests will be repeated on May 5 for those contacts who were identified as exposed to TB disease during the spring semester of the school year. This second test is necessary as it can take up to eight weeks for TB bacteria to show up positive in a TB test.