HEADLINES Published March20, 2015 By Bernadette Strong

More than Two Dozen Test Positive for Tuberculosis at High School in Kansas

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More than two dozen students and staff at a Kansas high school test positive for tuberculosis.
(Photo : Jeff J. Mitchell, Getty Images )

One case of active tuberculosis (TB) disease at a high school in Kansas prompted health officials to test everyone at the school. Testing turned up 27 students or staff at Olathe Northwest High School tested positive for tuberculosis out of more than 300 people.

This is not an unexpected number of people testing positive after an exposure to tuberculosis, according to public health officials. "The number of individuals with TB infection does not exceed what we would anticipate in this setting," Lougene Marsh, director of the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, said in a statement. "Of course, we had hoped we wouldn't find any additional TB cases, but we knew this was a possibility. That's why we took such thorough steps to test everyone who might have been in close contact with the first confirmed case of TB disease."

The 27 people who tested positive are not contagious and do not have symptoms of tuberculosis disease, but they are infected with the tuberculosis bacteria which could develop into active tuberculosis disease. Once active disease develops, the infection can be spread by coughing or sneezing. The people who tested positive will have to take antibiotics and have chest x-rays taken. For most people, the infection does not develop into active tuberculosis, but anyone with a compromised immune system is at a much higher risk of developing the disease.

Tuberculosis, which was also called consumption, was once a public health scourge with many thousands of cases each year and a high mortality rate. Symptoms of active tuberculosis disease include coughing, coughing up blood, fever, weight loss, organ damage, and, if left untreated, death. Before antibiotics, patients with tuberculosis were sent to large hospitals called sanitariums that specialized in treating the disease.

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