TB infection stirs worry on South L.A. campus

By BETTY PLEASANT, Contributing Editor

Story Published: Feb 18, 2009 at 8:58 PM PST

A Crenshaw High student has been diagnosed with active tuberculosis and the county's failure to test everybody on the campus for the disease has the school's students and staff members seething, it was learned Wednesday.

Members of the Crenshaw High community decry the fact that only the classmates of the female student TB patient were tested by the Public Health Department during the week of Feb. 9 while others who had contact with her on campus were not.

"Staff and students feel like the school is trying to keep this hush-hush," said one Crenshaw High employee.

I called Los Angeles school board Member Marguerite LaMotte about the infected student and the possibility of a TB outbreak at the school, which is located in her district, and LaMotte said she knew nothing about what I was saying to her.

LaMotte explained that Crenshaw is a "partnership school" allied to the Urban League, and that "the school district has limited operational involvement with" such schools. Nevertheless, LaMotte did immediately begin investigating the issue of tuberculosis at Crenshaw High.

I then called Gayle Pollard-Terry, communications director of the school district, who confirmed that a Crenshaw student had recently been hospitalized and diagnosed with active tuberculosis disease and, pursuant to required procedure, the district had reported the diagnoses to the county Public Health Department for action.

Pollard-Terry denied accusations of a district "cover-up." She said an "informative" memorandum was issued on Feb. 4 to members of the Board of Education, the school superintendent and to about 10 other school district officials, and notification letters and consent for testing forms were sent to the families of Crenshaw students deemed to be at risk of exposure to the infected student.

"Crenshaw students and staff considered at-risk and, therefore, tested for TB were strictly within the control of public health officials. The school district had nothing to do with that," Pollard-Terry said.

Dr. Rashmi Singh, acting director of the Public Health Department's TB Control, said: "That's right."

Dr. Singh said the standard protocol for conducting TB contact investigations to determine who is at-risk for contracting the infection is to evaluate the exposure by looking at one's proximity to the TB patient, the duration of that exposure and amount of ventilation in the location of exposure.

"Then we have to assess how infectious the case is," Dr. Singh said. "We have to determine whether there is negative or positive sputum from the patient, whether the patient has TB symptoms, is sick and coughing, etc. Based on these assessment points, we begin to test the students with the highest risk first.

"Experience tells us that it's a waste of time to test everyone who has come in contact with the patient - no matter how fleetingly - without determining the degree of exposure," Dr. Singh added.

The doctor is urging the Crenshaw High community to, therefore, chill. "Do not panic," Dr. Singh said. "We have identified and tested those people whom experience tells us are the most at risk from this patient. If concerns persist among the others, then they are welcome to go to their own physicians to be tested."

Posted by erniemixon on 02/22/2009
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