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Olathe high school finds 6 ‘latent’ cases of tuberculosis after more testing

A 3-D, computer-generated image of drug-resistant, Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria, the pathogen responsible for causing the tuberculosis disease.
Courtesy Photo
CDC on Unsplash
A 3-D, computer-generated image of drug-resistant, Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria, the pathogen responsible for causing the tuberculosis disease.

Kansas health authorities identified about 450 close contacts of the infected student. More than 300 have been tested during clinics on October 12 and November 14.

Six close contacts of an Olathe Northwest student have tested positive for tuberculosis so far, according to the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment.

The department, alongside the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, began testing after a student tested positive for the infection last month. The student may have been contagious as early as last spring, leading to about 450 close contacts in need of a test.

Thus far, 314 people have received testing from the department or their primary care provider.

According to Johnson County health director Charlie Hunt, all six cases are latent, meaning people are not contagious and do not have symptoms. However, he says about 5% to 10% of latent cases, if not treated, become active, leading to symptoms such as a severe cough, chest pain and weight loss.

Active tuberculosis can also spread the bacteria to others, which is why Hunt urges those untested close contacts to consider coming in.

“Six out of 314 is relatively low, but it is not zero, so there is some risk that transmission had occurred there,” Hunt said. “So it's possible that those we have not yet tested, that some would be positive, although we don't expect that to be a large number.”

It can take weeks to test positive for tuberculosis after being exposed. JCDHE will send a letter to everyone not yet tested, encouraging them to come into the department or go to their doctor to ensure they are not infected.

The department is offering those who have tested positive an X-ray and treatment to kill the TB bacteria with antibiotics. Treatment can take anywhere from three to nine months to complete.

JCDHE will also continue to follow up with those who tested positive in the coming weeks.

Hunt said tuberculosis is not transmitted as easily as COVID or the flu, but early intervention is key to preventing spread.

“It really does take close personal prolonged contact,” he said. “Just being out in public or just being in the same room as someone is not enough to transmit.”

As KCUR's health reporter, I cover the Kansas City metro in a way that reflects our expanding understanding of what health means and the ways it touches different communities and different areas in distinct ways. I will provide a platform to amplify ideas and issues often underrepresented in the media and marginalized people and communities in an authentic and honest way that goes beyond the surface of the issues. I will endeavor to find and include in my work local experts and organizations that have their ears to the ground and a beat on the health needs of the community. Reach me at noahtaborda@kcur.org.