Twenty-seven high school students in Kansas have become infected with the bacteria that, if untreated, can lead to tuberculosis, health officials reported Wednesday.
The teens were among more than 300 students and staff who were tested at Olathe Northwest High School after the first case was discovered, according to the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment.
Tuberculosis is a disease that is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria usually attack the lungs, but can attack any part of the body, such as the kidney, spine, and brain, according to the Centers for Disease Control. If not treated properly, the disease can be fatal.
Health officials began calling those with positive test results on Monday and letters were mailed to the homes of those who tested negative, the county health department said.
"The number of individuals with TB infection does not exceed what we would anticipate in this setting," county health Director Lougene Marsh said in a statement. "Of course, we had hoped we wouldn't find any additional TB cases, but we knew this was a possibility. That's why we took such thorough steps to test everyone who might have been in close contact with the first confirmed case of TB disease."
Those who have been infected with the bacteria are not contagious or exhibit any symptoms, health officials said. But that can change if left untreated and the bacteria develops into the disease form. Symptoms include fever, night sweats, cough, and weight loss.
"Early identification and treatment of TB infection is the key to preventing progression to TB disease," Marsh said.
The 27 students will take a chest X-ray and begin treatment with antibiotics to kill the tuberculosis bacteria and prevent the development of the disease. The treatment will be provided by Kansas health officials free of charge.
Follow up blood tests will be repeated on May 5 for those who were identified as having been exposed to the person with tuberculosis since it can take up to eight weeks for the bacteria to show up in a test, health officials said.
Jason Wells is deputy news director for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
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