All students at Wellborn High School and Wellborn Elementary will be tested for tuberculosis Wednesday after a high school student was diagnosed with the illness, the Alabama Department of Public Health announced Tuesday morning.
“It’s nothing to panic about,” said Pam Barrett, director of the tuberculosis control division at ADPH. “It’s preventable and treatable.”
During a recent visit to the doctor, Barrett said, the student was diagnosed with active tuberculosis. That student is at home undergoing treatment, she said. As a precaution, students at both the elementary and high schools will be tested for the illness beginning at 8 a.m. Wednesday.
The Mayo Clinic’s website describes tuberculosis as “a potentially serious infectious disease that mainly affects your lungs.” It’s relatively rare in developed countries such as the U.S., though outbreaks occur from time to time – including a 2016 outbreak in Perry County that Barrett said is still ongoing.
Barrett said the affected student was born in the U.S. and hadn’t visited any other country recently. Travel to countries where TB is more common is one of the risk factors for developing TB, Barrett said.
Students will receive a skin test, Barrett said, that involves an injection in the arm. In people with TB, the injection produces a raised or hardened patch of skin at the injection site. Barrett said ADPH officials will return to the school Friday to check students who’ve received the injection.
That routine may be familiar to many people in a former military town; TB testing is common for troops returning from deployments. Still, Calhoun County Schools Superintendent Joe Dyar said he doesn’t recall another case of TB in the school system.
“This is a new one to me,” Dyar said.
Barrett said parents and students don’t need to change their routines or do anything different, beyond the testing, to prevent TB. Treatment for the illness consists of a drug regimen that lasts about three months in patients who test positive and have no symptoms, she said. A longer drug regimen is needed for people who have symptoms.
Health Department and school officials will hold a public meeting on the TB testing at 5 p.m. Tuesday in the Wellborn High School gym.
The Wellborn case is one of three known cases in Calhoun County right now, Barrett said, though there appears to be no connection between those cases. A county is considered to have a TB outbreak when several cases emerge rapidly, connected to a single patient, Barrett said. She said Etowah County is currently having an outbreak; state statistics show nine cases in Etowah County in the past year.
Barrett said outbreaks often emerge among groups of people with drug or alcohol problems who have weakened immune systems. She said that’s not the case with the Calhoun County patients.