SPRINGFIELD, Va. – The Fairfax County Health Department is recommending all students, staff and faculty members of Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield, Va., be tested for tuberculosis after three students have tested positive for active tuberculosis since December. On Saturday, a clinic was staged at the high school and about 600 people are expected to be tested at the location by the time it closes.
“We’re doing this out of an abundance of caution to make sure that anyone that possibly could have come in contact with any of the individuals with the active disease is found so we can treat them,” says Fairfax County Health Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu.
Ana Espinoza, 15, was tested for tuberculosis Saturday. Her mother wanted to pull her out of the high school when she learned that three students were diagnosed with active tuberculosis since December.
“They want to just get [the testing] over with. See who has it and who doesn’t so they can come back to school,” she says.
Typically, a skin test is applied to the forearm. A fluid substance is injected just beneath the skin and a positive reaction would look like a hard lump, similar to a mosquito bite. Once the skin test is administered, the individual must return between 48 and 72 hours for the results. If someone tests positive for latent tuberculosis, free medications are made available and a chest x-ray is required to confirm active tuberculosis.
According to the Fairfax County Health Department, “about one-third of the world’s population has latent tuberculosis infection, which means they have been infected by the TB germs but do not feel sick or have any symptoms and cannot spread the germs to others.” Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu says that makes it difficult to determine where an individual was exposed.
“So we know that there’s going to be individuals who are going to test positive today. Positive not because of their association with the high school but just because they’ve been living,” she says.
The World Health Organization considers the United States a low-risk country for tuberculosis. Tuberculosis is curable if antibiotics are taken properly, according to the WHO.
Lauren McCarthy, 16, was screened Saturday morning.
“It hurt when I got the shot. I don’t really like needles,” she says.
Her mother, Gita, says it can be a scary experience for any family.
“I’m concerned that somebody could be exposed to it,” she says. “But we’re going through it, doing what we need to do to get it done. Everything’s going to be fine.”