Public health officials are expanding their testing of tuberculosis in Gwinnett County Public Schools to a second campus and nearly 200 students after six pupils tested positive for infection and one was identified with an active case of the disease.
Last week, health officials tested 36 students and six teachers at Lilburn Middle School after an eighth-grader was diagnosed with tuberculosis, a communicable disease that attacks the lungs. Six of those students tested positive for the tuberculosis bacteria, prompting health officials to call for additional testing of about 120 Lilburn students this week.
"A positive test result does not mean these students have tuberculosis disease or are a health risk to other students. It simply means the child was exposed to tuberculosis and has TB infection," said Lloyd Hofer, medical director for the East Metro Health District, which includes Gwinnett County. "The child cannot infect others and does not feel sick."
In severe cases, a person with tuberculosis may be hospitalized. But the disease is nearly always cured with proper medical treatment.
Officials also tested the Lilburn eighth-grader's family last week. All of the members had been infected, and three were diagnosed with active cases, including a first-grade relative who attends Rockbridge Elementary School. Sixty-one Rockbridge students who either are in the first-grader's class or rode the bus with the child are expected to be tested this week.
Vernon Goins, a public information officer with the East Metro Health District, said that finding active cases of tuberculosis is somewhat unusual but that exposure to the bacteria is not uncommon. Last year, health officials found 43 people who had been exposed in Gwinnett County.
"It is something that does pop up periodically because Gwinnett is such a lure to such a diverse group of people," Goins said. "People are constantly moving in. Certainly, a dynamic community like this is going to see a prevalence of it, whereas a community that is not growing might not."
The six Lilburn students, all of whom had been in close contact with the eighth-grader, have been taken out of school and are undergoing treatment. All of them will need additional testing, including chest X-rays, that will determine whether they have active cases.
Because the bacteria that cause tuberculosis are slow-growing, even those students who received a clean bill of health will have to be retested in three months.
Principals at Rockbridge and Lilburn met with health officials Monday and sent letters to parents notifying them whether their children needed to be tested. On Wednesday, the students designated for testing will be given an injection of tuberculin purified protein derivative in the nurse's office at their schools. If a child is infected, the injection will cause a reaction within 48 hours. If more cases are found, health officials will expand their testing further.
Linda Daniels, who has been principal at Rockbridge Elementary School for 14 years, said she could recall only one other time when a student at her campus tested positive for tuberculosis.
"The health department is very good about getting information to us quickly," she said. "Parents just need to know that we're on top of it."
Copyright 2004 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution