SAN ANTONIO – Letters to parents at several Northside ISD schools last week warned that one student tested positive for tuberculosis and that other students will need to be tested for the infectious disease because they may have been exposed.
Testing started Monday for students at Brandeis and Clark High Schools who may have been exposed to the ill student. Testing at O’Connor High School is expected later this week following a parent/community meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday in the O’Connor High School Auditorium.
Tuberculosis is the number one communicable disease killer in the world, according to the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, no question why the response locally is swift and intense.
Tommy Cambert, the Metro Health TB Coordinator, said the clinic is one of 24 in the world participating in a TB Research Consortium. So, this potential outbreak will be in good hands.
“It’s a blood draw, a single tube of blood and we’ll start on Monday, December the 12th, at Brandeis High School at 9:00 in the morning and then we’ll move over the Clark,” he explained.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, TB rates have been rising, particularly the type that is drug-resistant and requires sometimes up to two years of treatment. Compounding the issue is that the fact is with all our fall allergies, COVID, and respiratory viruses, TB has been hiding amid all the coughing.
“We’ve had several cases that have been misdiagnosed, either as COVID and maybe some sort of pneumonia or allergies or some other, some other potential disease other than tuberculosis. So some of those cases are now coming to light that they actually had tuberculosis and we’re just now identifying them,” Cambert said.
The graph below shows that TB took a big dip in spreading in Bexar County when the COVID-19 lockdowns occurred.
TB is considered a lung disease that is caused by an airborne bacteria that lodges in the lung. It’s not as contagious as COVID, but those who come into contact with an active case need to be tested.
Metro Health has traced contacts with the patients back 90 days and there are approximately 100 total people at the two schools that will receive the T-Spot test. Then those who were negative will be retested in 10 weeks.
UT Health San Antonio and University Health are part of research and treatment efforts that will likely be employed during this period, and there’s good news for those who will need treatment.
Dr. Jose Cadena, University Health infectious disease physician and UT Heath San Antonio professor of medicine, said, “It’s a very exciting topic because for many, many years, no new drugs were approved. We only had the same old drugs and we were doing the same thing. In the past five years or so, the options have continued to mount.”
For example, right now UT Health San Antonio is studying a new regimen that instead of one pill every day for six months to treat latent tuberculosis, it’s only one pill every six weeks. It’s a shorter treatment with a higher effective rate.
He says about 10% of the world’s population has been exposed or has the inactive form of the disease. There’s a small, but growing population that is suffering from a strain that is drug resistant.
He said those patients sometimes come to this country without knowing they carry TB, so it’s important to have treatment options that are working.
“We now have a good armamentarium to treat these patients, even those with drug-resistant tuberculosis. They used to require up to two years of therapy. Now we’re down to six to nine months, said Cadena, who also serves as Medical Director of Infectious Disease at the VA Hospital.