SAN JOSE - Santa Clara County, which has more cases of tuberculosis than most U.S. states, will shift from testing public school students for TB to requiring a "risk assessment" for the disease, officials said.
Beginning June 1, students must be examined by health care professionals, provided by their parent's insurance or elsewhere, to see if they have TB and give their schools the results, county TB Controller Dr. Teeb Al-Samarrai said.
Al-Samarrai, who works for the county Public Health Department, said that the county decided to change to assessing risk factors for TB because the current policy of universal testing resulted in too many false positives.
"This means rather requiring testing to every child, we will focus our effort on those children with the biggest risk factors of having been exposed," Al-Samarrai said.
Among the risk factors for TB, a bacterial infection of lungs that can result in death, is having been born abroad in or traveled to countries with high TB rates, including India, Vietnam and the Philippines, Al-Samarrai said.
The new risk assessment for schools, involving a form with a checklist of factors, would identify the children who were born or have been in high-risk counties and then getting them tested and treated faster, Al-Samarrai said.
Many residents of the county's diverse population who have TB contracted it overseas, Al-Samarrai said.
"Keep in mind that TB can lie dormant for many, many years," Al-Samarrai said. "It's important to test for it, you can identify it in its early form and you can treat it with just one medication or two medications so it doesn't develop into active disease."
Al-Samarrai, accompanied by county Supervisor Ken Yeager, spoke at a news conference at Washington Open Elementary School in Santa Clara to acknowledge World TB Day.
The day commemorates March 24, 1882, when German physician Dr. Robert Koch announced the discovery of the bacterium that causes the disease, according to health department spokeswoman Amy Cornell.
Al-Samarrai said that TB is "the world's oldest disease" and Santa Clara County has seen an increase in cases for the first time in six years.
Yeager said that while cases of TB have been declining in all of California, Santa Clara County experienced an alarming increase in 2013.
Some 181 known cases of the disease were recorded last year and about 180,000 people in the county have the disease in latent form "and do not know they are infected," Yeager said.
Al-Samarrai said that the county's 181 cases was higher than those of 38 U.S. states.
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