Merced High students, staff may have been exposed to tuberculosis, health officials say

A person associated with Merced High School has been identified with suspected active tuberculosis, Merced County Department of Public Health officials confirmed on Wednesday.

The school sent out a notification last week to parents.

“When it was learned that students at Merced high School had potentially been exposed to tuberculosis (TB), the school sent out a notification to let parents know, along with facts about TB, as well as information about the screening being conducted by the Merced County Department of Public Health,” the Merced Union High School District wrote in a statement.

The Merced County Department of Public Health wouldn’t confirm if the person was a student or staff member, but Dr. Gordon Arakawa, a health officer Merced County Department of Public Health, said the risk of other students or staff contracting TB is very low.

“When an active TB case is suspected, but not confirmed, the risk to others is very low,” said Arakawa, in an email to the Sun-Star.

According to Arakawa, it can take months to confirm a person has active TB.

Arakawa described tuberculosis as a two-stage disease.

The first stage is when a person is initially infected with TB. The disease becomes latent, the infection is controlled by the body’s immune system. In the first state, the person is not sick and can’t spread the disease.

The second stage is when the person is sick and can spread the disease. A person with active TB must be treated with medications.

“When a person with active TB starts treatment, they become no longer infectious and they can be cured of TB,” Arakawa said. “Obviously, TB is dangerous to the person who has active TB. Without treatment, a person with active TB can die.”

Merced High had a student diagnosed with TB in March of 2018. Close to 200 students who had prolonged exposure to the student diagnosed with TB underwent screening tests by the Merced County Department of Public Health.

“When a person is only suspected of having active TB, a limited, focused contact investigation is performed as a precautionary measure to evaluate for infection,” Arakawa said in an e-mail. “The contact investigation is ongoing.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms for active TB include: coughing that lasts three or more weeks; coughing up blood; chest pain, or pain with breathing or coughing; unintentional weight loss; fatigue; fever; night sweats; chills and loss of appetite.

There have been seven confirmed cases of active TB in Merced County in 2019, according to Arakawa.