TB Outbreak hits Kansas

TB Outbreak hits Kansas

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Matt Mitchell, Staff Writer

On March 18, 27 people from Olathe Northwest High School tested positive for tuberculosis (TB). A single student who attended the school was diagnosed with a full TB infection last week, necessitating the testing of over 300 individuals this particular student had come in contact with. As an airborne pathogen, TB can spread very quickly from the initial infected individual from coughing, or even speaking too close to others.

The director of the Johnson County Department of Health stated in a press conference that “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.” As the second most lethal infectious disease in the world today, such caution is necessary. The US sees fewer than 10,000 cases of TB on average every year, but outside our borders roughly 9 million people a year contract the disease, and of those 9 million people 1.5 million will die of it.

There is a vaccine available for TB, however it is not frequently administered within the US due to the relative rarity of the disease here. Active efforts by state health services to prevent any spread of it from infected individuals has been very effective. In 1953, the first year the CDC began keeping records of TB infections, there were over 83,000 reported cases of TB in the US. Efforts then have obviously been very successful. Catching the disease early is another key factor in containing the disease and preventing it from spreading. Symptoms that doctors look for when diagnosing TB are coughing, coughing up blood, chest pain, fever, extreme fatigue, and potentially heart or other organ damage if the disease has been allowed to progress too far. As dangerous as TB is untreated, antibiotics are extremely effective in killing the bacterial infection and almost all patients diagnosed within the US survive. For Olathe Northwest High School this is good news. According to the Johnson County Health Department, the original TB carrier is currently undergoing the antibiotic treatment and responding very positively to it. The other 26 students and faculty who tested positive for the infection have also begun treatment and will be tested one further time on May 5 to ensure that the disease no longer poses a threat.

Unfortunately, in the last year a new antibacterial resistant strain of TB has begun to surface in Europe due to incomplete antibiotic treatment that leaves some few remaining bacteria in people’s systems alive. These antibiotic resistant bacteria are extremely difficult to kill and doctors have begun to express some concern over what it could mean moving forward. For those students and faculty who are looking at Maymesters, summers, or semesters abroad, please be cautious. A quick Google search will alert you to any diseases that you aren’t vaccinated for that are common in any region you intend to visit. Though unpleasant, a few trips to the doctor’s office and a couple of injections may be worth the protection and peace of mind they give you.