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News / Health / Clark County Health

Tuberculosis testing urged for 187 at Wy’east

Health officials recommend testing for 16 staff members, 171 students who may have been exposed to TB

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter
Published: December 13, 2017, 7:17pm

Clark County health officials are recommending tuberculosis testing for 187 students and staff at Wy’east Middle School who may have come into contact with someone with active TB.

Last week, health officials alerted parents and staff at the east Vancouver middle school that someone associated with the school was confirmed to have active TB. Health officials are not revealing whether that person is a student or staff member to protect their privacy, but the person was removed from the school setting after the diagnosis.

An investigation by Clark County Public Health identified 171 students and 16 staff members who may have come into contact with the person. On Tuesday, the school mailed a second letter to those who were potentially exposed.

Clark County Public Health will hold a TB testing clinic for those affected in early January at the school.

Flu Activity Spikes

Clark County Public Health is urging people who haven’t already received a seasonal flu vaccine to get immunized after seeing local flu activity spike.

Last week, 21 percent of flu tests in Clark County came back positive — well above the 10 percent positivity rate used to indicate flu activity in a community.

“By getting vaccinated now, you’ll be more likely to celebrate the New Year in good health,” Dr. Alan Melnick, public health director, said in a news release. “It can take up to two weeks for protection to be effective, so we urge people to get vaccinated right away so they’ll be less likely to catch the flu or spread it to friends and family over the holidays.”

— Marissa Harshman

There, students and staff will receive free TB tests that involve an injection into the skin of the arm. The skin test must then be read by health officials within 48 to 72 hours. Public health will hold the test-reading clinic at the school, as well.

Health officials will also offer a blood test for those who have received a TB vaccine, which is typically given to young children in other countries with high levels of TB.

The health department is holding the testing clinic in January because it takes about eight weeks from exposure for a TB test to read positive, said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County Public Health director.

Bacterial disease

TB is a potentially serious infection that primarily affects the lungs. TB can be latent — in the body but not causing symptoms and, therefore, not contagious — or active. Those with active TB, such as the person at Wy’east, can spread the disease to others. How or when the person involved contracted TB was not disclosed.

The bacteria that cause TB are spread by tiny droplets released into the air when someone coughs or sneezes. It’s not as easily spread as many other communicable diseases, such as whooping cough and measles, because the germs cannot survive in the environment for long. Transmission usually requires being in close proximity to someone with the disease for a prolonged period of time, Melnick said.

So while health officials are recommending testing for nearly 190 people at the school, the likelihood of someone being infected is low, Melnick said. And the risk to the general public, he said, is “virtually nil.”

TB is treated by a monthslong course of antibiotics.

Columbian Health Reporter