Last month, two letters were sent home to ninth-grade students at Waianae High School, notifying parents of a possible exposure to tuberculosis.
A pink letter was given to students who may have been exposed to the disease and needed parental consent to be tested, and this blue letter was sent to students as a precaution.
The Department of Health was notified of the tuberculosis case on Feb. 6. The infected student is currently receiving treatment and is no longer attending school.
The DOH then conducted an investigation to see if anyone else had been exposed to the disease.
“When we do a school evaluation, the most important thing to look at is the friends and the classmates who are closest to the individual who is sick and make sure they’ve not been exposed and that’s what we’ve done,” said Dr. Richard Brostrom, State Tuberculosis Branch Chief.
Health officials conducted tuberculosis skin testing on 36 students and staff members who shared the same classroom with the ill student. None appeared to have a new TB infection, and no new cases of TB were found at the school.
“Why wasn’t the letter sent home to all of the students?” asked KHON2.
“The Department of Health makes the decision about what letters that they’re going to send home. So even though they sent a letter to all of the ninth-grade students, this parent bulletin goes to all parents and so all parents in the mid-term report card did receive this bulletin with a little notice that there was this problem found and that it is being addressed,” said Waianae High School principal Disa Hauge.
When asked who’s responsible for the letter to parents, Brostrom said, “In general, when we work with the schools, it’s a true partnership. And we met with the school administration and so I haven’t determined whether that oversight was our fault. In the end, it’s our responsibility. We’re the TB program. So we would take responsibility for making sure that that letter goes to the people it should go out with.”
“Do you think parents and students at Waianae High School should be worried?” asked KHON2.
“I understand their concerns. I really do. But I can tell you that the TB program, we do this every year at one school or another, and it appears that this person was not very infectious. And those students that were really close by showed no evidence that they breathed in TB or have TB themselves,” said Brostrom.
Last month, the Department of Health held a meeting for parents and staff to answer questions about TB, but since many parents didn’t get the letter, they didn’t know about the informational session.
So the Department of Health is holding another meeting for parents on Friday, March 6, at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Waianae High School cafeteria and a notice will be sent to all parents.
TB is a disease that is commonly seen in the lungs and is spread from person to person through the air. When a person with active TB disease in the lung or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings, tiny drops containing M. tuberculosis may be spread into the air. If another person breathes in these drops there is a chance that they will become infected with TB.
Two forms of TB exist, both of which are treatable and curable:
- Inactive TB infection (sometimes called “latent” TB) – when a person has TB bacteria in their body but the body’s immune system is protecting them and they are not sick. Someone with latent TB infection cannot spread the infection to other people.
- Active TB disease – when a person becomes sick with TB because their immune system can no longer protect them from active TB infection. Someone with active TB disease may be able to spread the infection to other people.
For more information on tuberculosis or TB testing, the public may call the DOH Hawaii Tuberculosis Control Program at 832-5731 or visit the following websites:
- Hawaii State Department of Health at https://tb.ehawaii.gov/welcome.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/tb