Nimitz, medical officials gear up for TB tests


Thursday, November 18th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Health officials are cautioning parents not to panic as officials at a Tulsa middle school gear up to administer tuberculosis tests to students.

Staff members and the 475 students at Nimitz Middle School have been urged to get the free TB tests Friday after an employee at the school was diagnosed with the disease.

Some parents already knew about the situation and were helping spread the word to other families, said Holly Johnson, the PTA president and parent of a Nimitz student. Letters were mailed to Johnson and other Nimitz parents this week, warning them about the TB threat.

"Had I not known the whole story, the letter could've been scary," Johnson said. "But there are no parents rushing up here or calling upset. People apparently are not acting on fear. I've not talked to one parent or heard of any parent wanting to take their kid out of school."

TB is spread by exposure to air-borne droplets produced by sneezing, coughing, speaking or singing from a person with the disease of the lung or larynx.

Janice Cox, of the Tulsa City-County Health Department's communicable disease clinic, said the employee was diagnosed after undergoing routine testing and screening.

"The person was never sick enough to be hospitalized," Cox said. "The degree of infectiousness was minimal. The person showed no clinical symptoms of TB. To allay fears, we decided to offer testing to all students."

To test for TB, a short needle injects an antigen to TB into the skin and a reaction is checked in 48 to 72 hours. People with negative results will be tested in three months -- after the incubation time of four to 12 weeks.

Johnson said the teachers and school administrators have been talking to the students about the disease to help ease fears about the test.

"The kids have been nervous because of the needles involved," Johnson said. "The shot is the thing they are talking about, not the seriousness of the disease. But they were broken up into grades during an assembly and nurses explained it and the students asked questions."

Dr. Jon Tillinghast, the TB control officer for the state Health Department, said one out of 10 people infected get the disease.

In Oklahoma, there were 212 cases of the disease in 1997 and 198 reported cases of the disease in 1998.

Between 10 million and 15 million Americans are estimated to have the infection and a life-long risk of reactivation.