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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on April 16th, 2014, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 15, Issue 6 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 15, Issue 6

The community gets tuberculosis information

BY RYAN MILLER


IT IS TB
A Santa Maria High School student recently tested positive for an active case of tuberculosis, prompting an immediate medical response and an informational meeting for the public.
PHOTO BY JANICE HANEY/COURTESY OF CDC/DR. RAY BUTLER

About 100 locals showed up at the Santa Maria High School cafeteria on the evening of April 11—not for a science fair or other extracurricular activity, but to learn about what’s being done in light of the revelation two days earlier that a student at the school has been diagnosed with an active case of tuberculosis.

Attendees received information in English, Spanish, and Mixtec on disease prevention, transmission, and treatment. They heard from the school nurse, principal, and a district representative, as well as Dr. Charity Thoman, health officer at the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, which has been keeping a close eye on an uptick in tuberculosis cases in the county. The Sun reported on the increase in January, when Thoman explained that California is the No. 1 state for tuberculosis—as well as drug-resistant tuberculosis—cases in the country. Susan Klein-Rothschild, deputy director at the Public Health Department, said an estimated 3 million people have latent TB in the state, which means it’s in their systems but isn’t doing much. About 2,400 people develop active TB a year in California.

The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department and Santa Maria Joint Union High School District have coordinated efforts to identify people who’ve potentially been exposed to the disease, organize screenings, and get information out to the public.

The disease—which often manifests as a bloody cough but can also infect organs and systems throughout the body, from the brain to the intestines to bones—is one to take seriously, but it’s not the killer it was in the United States a century ago. Patients must take regular doses of four different drugs for a long period to eliminate it. The regimen is strict, but effective.

But first, exposure and active cases have to be identified. Klein-Rothschild said 120 to 160 people were found to potentially have had contact exposure with the student in question. Blood testing will reveal whether tuberculosis bacteria is present in their bodies. Next, a physician will make a clinical judgment to determine who needs chest X-rays, which can reveal TB’s active presence in the lungs. Any necessary treatment will progress from there.

“Thank goodness we have great partners,” Klein-Rothschild said, referring to her department’s collaboration with the school district.

No information is being released on the student initially diagnosed with active TB, aside from the fact that he or she is currently isolated and receiving treatment.

The April 11 meeting concluded with a question to the audience: Should there be more meetings like this in the future? Does the public want to stay informed about tuberculosis—and, potentially, other health issues—this way?

Hands went up.