Texas students were all once required to be tested for tuberculosis prior to the start of the school year, but that practice ended 30 years ago.
State health officials determined in 1987 the need for mandatory TB testing for children was no longer necessary due to the number of cases seen in Texas at the time.
The tests in the 1980s also produced a high number of false-positive results which lead to more complications.
Parents were taking children who tested positive for TB to hospitals for chest X-rays and other intensive treatment when the kids never actually had TB.
“You weigh that and it’s just not appropriate,” said Porfirio Villarreal, the public information officer for the Houston Health Department. “The emotional costs, the financial costs when you have to go to the doctor. That's a lot when you have false positives.”
The TB tests of 2017 first require a blood test, then a chest X-ray later.
Fort Bend County Health and Human Services determined 647 students and 27 faculty members possibly had contact with individuals with active TB disease at the end of the 2017 school year.
The four individuals who were contagious all had links to George Bush High School.
The school district sent letters and emails to the hundreds of students requesting they come to the campus on June 19 for testing.
The turnout was much worse than health department officials had hoped, only 228 students showed up to have their blood drawn.
"The fact that we found out about the infectious case May 30, two days before school broke out, is kind of the worst possibility,” said Kaye Reynolds, deputy director for Fort Bend County Heath and Human Services. “These children will not be able to go into school at the beginning of the school year unless they have undergone the investigation process.”
There is no vaccination or preventative care available in the United States for tuberculosis. Treatment for TB must be monitored by the health department and can last up to two years in extreme cases.
Drug-resistant strains of TB have become more prevalent in recent years. These untreatable strains have been present in Fort Bend County in the past.
Signs and symptoms of active TB:
- Coughing that lasts three or more weeks
- Coughing up blood
- Chest pain, or pain with breathing or coughing
- Unintentional weight loss
- Night sweats
- Loss of appetite
Tuberculosis can also affect other parts of your body, including your kidneys, spine or brain. When TB occurs outside your lungs, signs and symptoms vary according to the organs involved. For example, tuberculosis of the spine may give you back pain, and tuberculosis in your kidneys might cause blood in your urine.
An estimated 2 billion people have the latent or inactive TB bacteria that can cause tuberculosis, but their immune system prevents them from becoming sick. There are no symptoms and it's not contagious, but it can turn into active TB so treatment is important.