TB evaluation at Hazen High School

Public Health – Seattle & King County is following up on the report of a Hazen High School community member who was diagnosed with active tuberculosis (TB). Public Health is working with the high school and Renton School District officials to define the extent of any potential TB exposures, conduct screenings for those exposed, and provide guidance and information to the Hazen High School community.

TB is not easy to spread

TB is an infectious disease caused by bacteria that are passed from person to person through the air. TB is not easily spread; it’s much harder to spread than the cold or flu. It typically takes repeated and prolonged exposure in a confined indoor space to become infected with TB. Even in households with a contagious TB case, only about 1-in-3 close household contacts become infected.

Details on the evaluation
As a precaution, approximately 240 people from the school community are recommended to be screened for TB, based on the amount of time they were exposed to the person with TB in indoor spaces. A screening will be offered on Wednesday, January 18th at the school to determine if anyone has symptoms of active TB, as well as conducting a blood test to determine if they are infected with TB, but without symptoms (also called latent TB).

Active vs. latent TB
Unlike active TB disease, people with latent (or dormant) TB infection can’t spread it to others and are not ill with the disease. Approximately 100,000 people in King County have latent TB infection. While they aren’t contagious now, they could potentially have active TB in the future and also infect others. Approximately one in 10 people with latent TB infection will develop active TB in their lifetime.

Treatment for TB
The person at Hazen High School with active TB disease is receiving treatment, and is currently not a risk for infecting others. Most cases of active TB are readily treatable with antibiotics that are commonly available; treatment typically takes six to nine months. The person at Hazen High School may have a strain of TB that may be resistant to some antibiotics; further tests are pending. Drug-resistant strains require different antibiotics and may include a longer course of treatment (up to two years).

To become cured, a patient must complete the entire treatment, even after they are no longer infectious. If the treatment is interrupted before the bacteria are completely eliminated, TB can develop drug-resistance and become much harder to treat.

People at Hazen High School who are identified through the blood test to be infected with latent TB may be recommended for treatment, so that they do not develop the disease in the future. Latent TB infection with drug-resistant TB requires different antibiotics, but the six month treatment is no longer than conventional latent TB treatment.

More about TB
TB usually affects the lungs, but can affect lymph nodes, bones, joints, and other parts of the body. A person with active TB in the lungs can spread the disease by coughing or sneezing. In King County, 98 new cases of TB disease were reported in 2015. On average, two cases of TB disease are diagnosed in King County each week.

To learn more about signs, symptoms, and transmission of TB, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s TB website.

TB program protects the community
Public Health – Seattle & King County’s TB Control Program ensures that people with active TB are diagnosed and cured, and that others in contact with them who are at highest risk of infection are screened, so that infections do not spread.  This essential public health work improves the community’s health and saves money by controlling the spread of TB, preventing outbreaks, and preventing the development of multi-drug resistant TB that can be very expensive to treat.

TB is a global threat, with over two million deaths every year, as people in many parts of the world do not have access to treatment and effective TB control programs like we do in the United States. Because we are at a global crossroads in King County, we need to be constantly vigilant to prevent the spread of TB.

Originally posted on January 12, 2017