Ennis High School facing tuberculosis scare

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by JONATHAN BETZ and JASON WHITELY

Bio | Email | Follow: @jasonwhitely

WFAA

Posted on September 19, 2011 at 7:12 PM

Updated Monday, Sep 19 at 10:13 PM

ENNIS - Administrators are facing a health scare at a North Texas high school after dozens of kids tested positive for tuberculosis.
 
"Everytime I breathe, my chest hurts," said student Shabrekia Richardson. "The left side of my chest hurts so bad."
 
The high school junior went to Baylor Medical Center in Waxahachie Monday morning for chest x-rays. She's one of 80 Ennis High School students who tested positive for tuberculosis exposure.
 
"I was pretty shocked," she said. "I never thought something like this would happen."
 
Last week, administrators tested 200 students at Ennis High School, 40 miles south of Dallas.  School and health officials said an infected teacher likely exposed the students within the past three months.  The Texas Department of State Health Services has been called in, and is covering the costs of chest x-rays and medication for the exposed students, even while it downplays parents' fears.
 
"There's no indication they're infectious," said DSHS spokesperson Chris Van Deusen. 

Van Deusen said at this point, exposed students have latent TB, which doctors say poses little risk to the community or their families. The school district is even encouraging those kids to continue going to classes, if they show no symptoms - a decision that troubled parents and students.
 
"It doesn't make sense," said Ennis High School student Xavier Tippen. "I thought it was a stupid decision to tell kids to come if they have a positive [test result]."
 
Doctors said just because someone is exposed to tuberculosis, doesn't mean they'll ever get sick.  Only people with active tuberculosis symptoms are contagious. Symptoms include weight loss, serious coughing, and night sweats. The bacteria usually attacks the lung and can be fatal if untreated. TB generally is spread through coughing or sneezing.
 
"The way you get tuberculosis, is you acquire it and then 35 to 40 years later you develop symptoms," said Dr. Cedric Spak, a Baylor infectious diseases consultant.

Spak treats dozens of TB patients, but has not seen any of the Ennis cases. 

The doctor said even people diagnosed with latent TB may never show any symptoms and may never spread the disease. He estimated the bodies of healthy teens would likely wall off the bacteria.
 
Last year, 1,385 Texans had active cases of TB.

The state hopes chest x-rays will reveal whether any of the Ennis students developed full-blown tuberculosis. Those results are expected within days.
 
Dr. Brian Smith, a regional director for the Texas Health Department, said there's a 10 pecent risk that the exposed students will develop active Tuberculosis.  Thus, he's recommending a serious regimen that involves taking medication everyday for nine months, to help ensure the TB bacteria in their bodies doesn't intesify.
 
"They need to get the medication, and they need to take the whole nine months worth," Smith said.

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

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