Tuesday, October 13 , 2015, 2:47 pm | A Few Clouds 83º

Santa Maria High School Tuberculosis Case Sparks Flurry of Public Health Testing of Students

By Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @magnoli |

Within an hour of diagnosing a Santa Maria High School student with tuberculosis, Santa Barbara County public health workers had him isolated and under treatment, the county’s health officer said.

Dr. Charity Thoman, who was appointed to her post in January, said the student should make a full recovery.

The county won’t release specifics about the active case, which Noozhawk first reported Wednesday, but most cases take four to eight weeks of medication to eliminate the bacteria from the lungs.

Tuberculosis bacteria can lay dormant for years but becomes infectious when it’s active, as this case is, Thoman said. With an infection, there is a lifetime risk of about 10 percent for the disease to become active, but the odds can be higher with certain diseases like diabetes and HIV, she said.

The Santa Maria Joint Union High School District is working with the Public Health Department to test other students and community members, said John Davis, the district’s assistant superintendent of instruction.

Tuberculosis is spread through the air, from coughing or sneezing, and usually only affects one organ system if it’s caught early, Thoman explained.

She said 120 to 160 students will be tested this week, and officials are still trying to identify and test individuals who could have been exposed.

Santa Barbara County has had 10 new cases of tuberculosis this year but no fatalities.

California has the highest reported numbers in the United States, for latent, active and multidrug-resistant tuberculosis cases, Thoman said.

There are countries where it’s more common, like eastern Russia and the Philippines, and the disease can arrive in California through immigrants or travelers who have been infected elsewhere or it can be actively transmitted from person to person. There are 2,100 to 2,400 active cases a year but Thoman said that in about a third of the world the bacteria are just dormant.

It’s difficult to see where cases came from, but agencies within California can connect cases to each other by the bacteria’s genetic material, she said.

“There’s no way for us to pull up a list of genes in Russia and say, ‘Aha! These cases came from Russia!’” she said. “All we can say is that they’re linked to each other, and that’s how we define an outbreak, if the cases are linked.”

It takes two months to test the genotype of bacteria so while Thoman believes some of the county cases are linked to each other, with active cases getting other people infected, they won’t know until testing is done.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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