INDIO, Calif. - Riverside County health officials tested 1,394 students and faculty at Indio High School for tuberculosis Friday, remaining confident that the likelihood of the illness spreading is still low. Despite the confidence, students and parents at the school are still concerned. "Come to school to get our education, but to get tuberculosis?" said Brandon Baca, a freshman at the school.
Students were tested alphabetically during the last day of school before the winter break. "Some people are scared, some people are just worried if they have it or not," said Oscar Gonzales, a freshman at Indio high school.
Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the county's public health officer, said today's testing went smoothly and that health officials will be at the school Monday to read the results of today's skin tests.
"This is just the most recent step in the standard, medically accepted process for handling potential exposures," he said. "We have required testing for everyone at the school as a precaution, even though the chance of the illness being passed from one person to another is remote."
On Friday, health officials tested 75 staff and 1,319 students. On Monday, 131 students had been tested after a student recently was diagnosed with active tuberculosis. Forty-five students tested positive for possible exposure but the positive test result does not mean they have active tuberculosis. A positive result on a skin test requires follow-up testing, including X-rays.
Health officials said an earlier estimate that up to 1,800 people would be tested today actually included those who had been tested Monday. The number of people tested on Friday was not unexpected for various reasons, including that it was the last day of school before the upcoming holidays and that some students and staff already have been tested by their own health-care providers. School officials have ordered that all students and staff members will be required to show proof that they have been tested, as well as showing the results of those tests, before returning to the school.
Friday's screening was scheduled after follow-up X-rays on students tested earlier this week identified five students who needed further examination.
"Riverside County's handling of this public health concern was thorough, appropriate and immediate, and I appreciate the good work by everyone involved," said Supervisor John J. Benoit. "We're also thankful for the assistance from Indio High School and the Desert Sands Unified School District in ensuring today's testing went smoothly."
While officials did their best to put families at ease, parents were concerned after seeing students with bandages from the test and from the threat of the disease. Some believe the school took too long to act after a student was diagnosed with active tuberculosis in late November. "It takes so long to find out, I don't know what is problem here," said Asis Urias, whose child is a freshman. "Somebody has to be responsible for all this."
Principal Rudy Ramirez, a parent himself, stands by the school's response and wants families to trust his commitment to the health of his students. "You should be concerned with the safety of your sons and daughters so just rest assured we've worked closely with the county and followed their protocol," said Ramirez.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tuberculosis is caused by bacteria that usually attack the lungs, but it can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine, and brain. If not treated properly, TB disease can be fatal. It is spread through the air from one person to another. The TB bacteria are put into the air when a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected.
It is not spread by shaking someone's hand, sharing food or drink, touching bed linens or toilet seats, sharing toothbrushes or kissing. Some of the symptoms include: Coughing with sputum for more than three to four weeks, coughing up blood, pain in the chest when breathing, unexplained loss of appetite or weight loss and fever with night sweats for more than three weeks.
For more information about tuberculosis: http://www.rivco-diseasecontrol.org/Programs/TuberculosisControl.aspx