A tenth of Coronado High School students and staff, or about 325 people, are at risk for contracting the potentially lethal disease tuberculosis because of their exposure to a confirmed case at the Henderson campus, according to a spokesperson for the Southern Nevada Health District.
The Health District began blood testing for those at-risk at the state’s second-largest school on Tuesday, exactly a week after it informed parents and staff that someone at Coronado tested positive for TB in the contagious stage. A makeshift clinic has been set up inside the school, near Eastern Avenue and Sunridge Heights Parkway. Blood tests will be performed through Thursday at no cost, Health District spokeswoman Jennifer Sizemore said.
The Health District began giving letters to exposed individuals on Nov. 12. The letter said their close, prolonged contact with the infected individual – whom health and school officials won’t identify as a student or staff member – put them at risk for infection, and a blood test is recommended. At-risk students need parent permission to have their blood drawn.
Test results will be known in two to three days, Sizemore said. However, across-the-board negative results wouldn’t mean the school of more than 3,000 students is clear of TB infection, she said. Infection likely wouldn’t show in a blood test so soon after exposure. For that reason, the Health District will return to Coronado for a second round of tests, she said.
TB, which usually attacks the lungs, is contracted by breathing in the bacteria directly from the infected person who may be coughing, sneezing or simply speaking. A contagious person will be sick and may even be coughing up blood.
Even though TB may take longer to show in a blood test, officials expect this week’s results may yield a positive case or two for “latent” TB, Sizemore said. That means the individual probably had TB before and never knew it, Sizemore said.
Although deadly, TB bacteria can infect a person but remain inactive in their system. This is called latent TB.
A person with latent TB would test positive but their body has been able to fight the bacteria and keep it from making them sick. Many with latent TB could have it their whole lives without developing the disease or becoming infected and sick, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC regards TB as “one of the world’s deadliest diseases,” with 9,945 new U.S. cases in 2012.
If positive results arise in the second round of testing, those infections would likely started with the Coronado individual identified last week, Sizemore said. Still, these cases would likely be latent, Sizemore said.
For any TB cases identified, the patient would be given an oral medication to eradicate the bacteria.
Nevada consistently ranks among the top 20 states for its rate of TB cases, reporting about 100 newly diagnosed cases a year, according to the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health. Clark County usually accounts for more than 80 percent of new cases each year, making its TB case rate of 3.4 per 100,000 people higher than the 3.2 national average.
Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0279.