Public health agency reviewing TB cases in DUSD

DOWNEY -- Citing medical confidentiality and privacy, county health and Downey Unified School District officials are being tight-lipped about the results of skin tests the health department conducted at Downey High School on Feb. 22, and again on Feb. 24, involving about 100 students believed to have been exposed to two students who tested positive for tuberculosis late last year.A few staff members were also tested. The two students had both been in one math class, and one of them briefly attended an after-school class at Warren High. The tests, which raised anxiety levels among parents because of the contagious nature of tuberculosis, were actually triggered by a CBS News finding that several students had tested positive months before. This was not lost on the parents, who questioned why the tests were not conducted sooner because of the potential health hazard involved. When interviewed, DHS principal Tom Houts reportedly told CBS that health officials showed up at the school two weeks before and told him they wanted to test the students involved. He was by then keenly aware of the anxiety among parents about the long time gap between tests. Houts reportedly told CBS News that he asked the nurse from the health department why the delay, and he was told it "was something about genotyping and stuff that I do not know about." He then expressed his frustration about what he called a "lack of communication on the part of the public health department." The district is not giving out any specific information either. Asked on Monday where matters stood, Superintendent Dr. Wendy Doty said test results should be coming in shortly that day. In the meantime, she said dialer messages -- in English and Spanish -- about the tests had been sent out on March 1 to all Warren and Downey High families. Both messages contained identical elements, except for those applicable specifically to either school. The common statements: 1) The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health continues to review two cases of tuberculosis at [Downey High School]; 2) The Department of Public Health staff is taking all precautions to make sure there is no spread of this illness; 3) We at DHS (or WHS) and the Downey Unified School District will continue to work with the Public Health Department, and will keep you informed; 4) We thank you for you patience as we continue to protect our students and staff. Statements specific to Downey High: 1) As part of its ongoing investigation, Public Health is continuing to do skin tests on identified students and staff that may have come into contact with the ill persons. These students and staff members were notified today; and 2) Skin tests will be provided to students here on campus during the school day on Friday, March 2. The portion specific to Warren High: 1)As a part of their ongoing investigation, the Department of Public Health will screen a few Warren High School students who participated in an after-school district class [in the fall]. 2.) One of the student cases at Downey High also attended this class for a short period of time. 3.) Warren students who were in this class and their parents have already been notified of this public health screening. Again citing confidentiality, Doty said the county health department had instructed DUSD to refer all requests for information by the press to its public information office. This blanket statement we got from the department on March 2: "The Los Angles County Department of Public Health is working with a small number of schools to perform testing of staff and students who may have been exposed to tuberculosis. The testing will help determine who may be at risk and whether these individuals require care. Because of medical confidentiality and privacy, Public Health will not comment on the details of individual cases or their contacts. Public Health is examining whether delays have occurred in investigations of this matter, and has taken action to assure timeliness in response to this situation." Tuberculosis is a contagious disease caused by a certain bacteria that usually attacks the lungs. It is spread though the air from one person to another by tiny airborne particles that contain the bacteria. This was the health department-supplied statement: "The safety of our students and staff are our top priority. We are working with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to identify students and staff who may have been exposed to tuberculosis. This includes testing of some students and staff. Because of medical confidentiality and privacy we will not comment on the details of individual cases or on testing of students and staff. If you have further questions, please contact Public Health's Media Office at (213) 240-8144, or"

********** Published: March 08, 2012 - Volume 10 - Issue 47