State health officials will test students at Castle Heights Middle School for tuberculosis Jan. 12-13.
Parents will receive identical testing packets Friday, so no child can be identified based on his or her testing status, said Mychal Frost, director of communications for the Rock Hill school district.
A packet indicating a student should be tested should be returned Monday, or the first day back depending on inclement weather, said Castle Heights principal John Kirell.
Leaders at Castle Heights on Dec. 29 confirmed an eighth-grade student was diagnosed with the disease. Health and school officials addressed parents’ questions during a meeting Wednesday night.
Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that normally attacks the lungs, but it can spread to other organs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. TB is treatable with antibiotics, but it can be deadly without treatment.
Testing procedures are determined by an ongoing S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Contol investigation. That investigation includes evaluating the school layout and routine activities of the individual involved to determine the level of risk for other people in classrooms, lunchrooms and other areas of the building, according to DHEC.
Based on the results, students and staff who may have been exposed will be put into groups based on their level of risk, Frost said. People who have had close contact with the student and considered at the greatest risk for exposure will receive recommendations to be tested for TB first.
Testing everyone in a school is rarely recommended, according to DHEC.
DHEC will do blood tests on individuals identified as at risk, said Dr. Melissa Overman, assistant epidemiologist for DHEC. For each positive test, officials will conduct further investigations and provide necessary recommendations, including testing family members if applicable.
“We will follow it as far as it goes,” Overman said.
DHEC will cover the costs of the tests and medication for those screened through them. Parents can elect to see their own care provider at their own cost.
For individuals who are screened, DHEC will return to test them again in 8 to 10 weeks, the time it can take for a positive result to show up, Overman said. Negative results at that time typically indicate the person has not been infected, she said.
Parents and others should not be excessively concerned because TB disease “is not readily transmitted,” Overman said.
TB is transmitted by being close to someone who has the symptoms and who releases the germ into the air by coughing or sneezing. Those with the TB germ but without symptoms cannot spread the disease. TB cannot be spread by touching surfaces or shaking hands, Overman said. The germ has to be inhaled and deposited in the lungs.
“It’s not like the flu,” she said. “TB does not work the same way. The school should be very safe.”
However, students or staff with symptoms should remain home and see their primary care physician, said Sadie Kirell, clinical lead nurse for Rock Hill school district. The school has procedures in place for students who miss class, she said.
TB symptoms include a cough that lasts more than three weeks, bloody coughs or coughs with a high amount of mucus from deep within the chest. Other symptoms include night sweats, fevers and weight loss.
Overman said the risk to the public and students coming into middle school is “very low,” provided anyone with symptoms remain isolated and see a physician.
“We are reliant on all of you to be partners in this,” she said.
Neither health nor school officials released information regarding specific individuals because of privacy concerns.
“That is one of our main priorities,” Sadie said.