NORTH SACRAMENTO – With the first day of school in the Twin Rivers Unified School District just a couple of weeks away, parents with children in the District are highly concerned about a potential outbreak of Tuberculosis, especially after a case of the infectious disease was discovered at Grant High School last school year.
A community meeting featuring medical doctors, public health officials, elected leaders, along with District parents, was held at the Joe Mims Jr. Hagginwood Community Center last week to address the possibility of a Tuberculosis (TB) outbreak.
The one question that was on the minds of most of the parents attending, however, was why only 605 students had been tested.
“There are 2,000 students who attend Grant High School,” said parent Francisco Garcia.
Garcia has two teenagers who attend Grant High.
“I believe all the students should have been tested,” he stated.
“My two boys were tested and the tests came back negative. But that’s only because I took them in,” related the concerned Garcia.
Sacramento City Councilman Allen Wayne Warren, who represents District 2, hosted the informational meeting. Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna also addressed the community and listened to various medical experts that did their best to suppress the community fears.
It began in February after a Grant High student was diagnosed with active TB. The student was successfully treated and medically cleared to return to school.
Dr. Olivia Kasirye, Public Health Officer for Sacramento County, was the main speaker at the meeting. Dr. Kasirye said of the 605 students tested for TB, 436 completed the evaluation while 109 tested positive for latent TB and are receiving treatment.
From that pool, four students tested positive for early-stage active TB, which was not infectious, but medical examiner were seeing that the bacteria was “multiplying,” Dr. Kasire said. The students were provided preventive medications.
TB is a disease caused by a germ and usually affects the lungs, but could affect different parts of the body. There are two TB-related conditions. Latent TB infection are not infectious and a person who contact it normally does not feel sick or have symptoms.
A person with infectious active TB may have the classic symptoms of a chronic cough, fever, night sweats, chills, and weight loss. Should an infected person cough or sneeze, TB are expelled into the air. If another person inhales air containing TB, he or she may become infected.
When the first case of TB emerged, Dr. Kasirye said the 605 students were chosen because of a public health “protocol” the county follows. Some of the classrooms at Grant High share the same ventilation systems. Therefore, the students in the adjourning classrooms were tested. The students that participated in sports, drama, or any extra-curricular were tested as well.
Furthermore, Dr. Kasirye told the OBSERVER that the four cases were not “contagious because they were diagnosed early.” The remaining students that did not test for TB were not “considered a risk,” Dr. Kasirye stated. However, for extra precaution, voluntary testing is recommended.
“We are offering (testing) because the parents are concerned and we want to be able to respond to their concerns,” Dr. Kasirye said. “For those that are on our list they need to get the skin test first. If the test comes back negative…then they have completed their evaluation.”
It was also brought to the medical experts at the meeting that most of the parents in the district may not have health coverage for their children to take the voluntary test. The test price range run from $14 to $27 each. Councilman Warren and County Supervisor Serna did come up with a solution.
“In the event that people can’t afford to be tested or don’t have insurance, Serna and I will do what we need to do to make sure all of the kids in the school have a free test,” Warren told the OBSERVER. “We are going to set a day for free testing and notify everyone who wants to come out to be tested.”
Thelma Parker-Baldwin, a volunteer for the Coalition of Concerned Medical Professionals (CCMP), alerted participants at the meeting that the non-profit organization provides free preventive medical assistance to low-income families.
“CCMP has been right here in this neighborhood (of Del Paso Heights) since 1973,” Parker-Baldwin said. “Everything is free if you qualify. Everybody should get tested for TB because when you run from something…that’s when you get it.”
Of Sacramento County 1.5 million residents, the Public Health Department get an average of 94 TB-related cases per year. In Grant High School case, the parents grave concerns are kids in the area who may get scholarships, but is isolated because of the outbreak, classroom settings, whether they can be affected on the job, or fear of being quarantined.
Dr. John Belko, Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist from Kaiser Permanente, understood the parents frustrations and said it was “totally fine to vent” their issues that have become sort of a backlash outside Grant High community. Dr. Belko did tell parents where TB may have originated from.
“Citizens that have gone overseas and spent time overseas do have a risk for potentially acquiring tuberculosis,” Dr. Belko said. “Where e they stayed, how they stayed, and who they were with does affect that. When we look at out statistics nationally of where our TB comes from people who actually entered the United States. We are not pointing fingers. But that’s just what the numbers show us.”
For the simple reason that the students are minors, by law, the County Public Health Department would not disseminate information such as the ethnicity, identity, or gender.
“We can talk about age,” Dr. Kasirye said. “But if you notice, we don’t mention the classrooms and we don’t mention the ethnicity. Though the provider gives us certain information, we have certain laws to protect (the students’) identity.”
If there are students or parents in the North Sacramento area, that don’t have health coverage to take the voluntary TB test, call (916) 874-3700 for assistance.
For more information about the Coalition of Concerned Medical Professionals (CCMP), call (916) 925-9379.
By Antonio Harvey
OBSERVER Staff Writer