ENNIS – Representatives of the Texas Department of Health Services (TDHS) held a community forum Wednesday evening to address community concerns over the recent tuberculosis case in the school district.
The forum was organized with the help of U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, State Rep. Jim Pitts and State Sen. Brian Birdwell, who were all in attendance.
Barton made the opening comments telling the packed auditorium he is satisfied the school district has good people working on identifying all those affected and will stay on top of the problem.
“This is not something that will get swept under the rug,” Barton assured the audience.
Describing the detection, the signs, symptoms, treatment and identification process of TB was Dr. James Zoretic, Region 2 and 3 Director for the TDHS. Joining him was Dr. Nick Dausen, Director of Government Relations.
During the evening, both Zoretic and Dausen explained specifics of TB and the initial testing process. Zorrtic said when a TB case is reported, the TDHS immediately starts the investigation process. This includes identifying those who had close contact with a diagnosed person.
He first explained that TB is only transmitted through the air and the bacteria is inhaled. “TB germs are tiny airborne particles called droplet nucei. It cannot be transmitted by touching. The immune system usually responds and controls the spread of the germ.” Persons in close proximity or in poorly ventilated areas are more likely to contract the germ.
“We start by identifying anyone who had close personal contact with the person infected and provide a skin test. Those testing positive will be referred for further testing with a chest x-ray and lab testing,” he added.
Zoretic explained that persons testing positive on the skin test but show no other signs or additional tests yield negative results indicate a latent case and are not contagious.
“There are two levels, latent TB and active TB disease,” Zoretic said.
During his Power Point presentation, Zoretic explained the difference between the two. While minimal treatment is required for latent TB, there is a required treatment program that is required by law. The patient is removed from school, the workplace and public areas until they are declared not contagious, he said.
Several of those attending questioned why the district took so long to notify the public and why all students were not tested.
District Superintendent Dr. Barbara Qualls said the district was initially notified on Aug 19.
“We immediately started the necessary procedures to notify the State Department of Health Services and begin the notification process,” Qualls said.
Both Qualls and Zoretic said the notification process was held at the beginning of the school year and to be able to test the students, the parents had to receive, sign and return the skin testing request.
Qualls assured the audience that the teacher involved immediately left the campus and has not returned to any Ennis ISD campus.
Ennis High School Principal David Averett said that the identification process of students having contact with the teacher included looking at the fall 2010, spring 2011 and summer school student rolls.
Several in the audience again asked why the district has not tested all the students and teachers.
Zoretic said they start with the group identified having the closest contact, then move out to those who had lesser contact.
“This method is the most effective in identifying those who have been exposed and those who are suspect of having active TB,” Zoretic said.
The testing has begun at the school and will continue until the TDHS said they have tested all those who possibly could have been exposed. He did say that the entire district will not be tested.
Aline Whatley asked Zoretic what the state and district was doing to keep the disease from spreading in the school. She asked if concerned parents could send a mask to school for their children to wear.
While she felt Zoretic’s response of “we continue to test,” was not adequate, she asked the district to take further steps to prevent the further spread.
Zoretic responded to her question about masks, “I don’t feel a mask would be effective. I would feel comfortable sending my child to school here.”
Also representing the State Department of Health was Chris Van Deusen. He responded to questions regarding the extent of the Ennis outbreak.
“The latest information as of today, 836 individuals have received the skin test; 128 tested positive and 353 tested negative. We are waiting on the results of the remaining tests. Of those tested, there have been no confirmed TB cases outside of the original confirmed case,” Van Deusen said. “The state is continuing its testing at the school and will further test those who test positive on the initial skin test.”
The percentage of those who have a positive skin test that contract an active case of TB is extremely low, Zoretic added, explaining the potential of someone contracting an active case of TB.