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Entire school to be tested

LILBURN -- With four confirmed cases of tuberculosis at Lilburn Middle School, the Gwinnett County Health Department plans to test the entire campus after spring break.

As a precaution, public health officials plan to test all students at the school who have not yet been screened. The health department will also do follow-up screenings on students who were originally tested in February.

"We're going out of our way and taking an abundance of caution to test these students and ensure their health and safety," said Suleima Salgado, spokeswoman for the Gwinnett County Health Department. "This is not considered an outbreak at this moment. Our investigation is still ongoing."

Tuberculosis is a disease that usually affects the lungs. TB germs are spread from person to person through the air when a person with TB disease coughs, sneezes, laughs or sings.

Officials from the health department will visit the school April 14 to administer the TB skin test, Salgado said. The tests will be administered at no charge, but students will need to bring a consent form signed by their parents.

To administer a skin test, a health care worker uses a small needle to put some testing material, called tuberculin, just under the skin on the lower inside part of the arm. After the test is administered, health officials must inspect the arm in two to three days to see if there is a reaction to the test.

A negative skin test usually means the person is not infected. However, the test may be falsely negative if the person was infected recently. It usually takes two to 10 weeks after exposure to a person with TB for a skin test to react as positive.

A positive skin test usually means the person has been infected with the TB germ. It does not necessarily mean the person has TB disease. Other tests, such as an X-ray or sputum sample, are needed to see if the person has TB disease.

Salgado said families that do not want to wait until after spring break for the test can visit a Gwinnett County health center or their personal care physician. If a TB test is administered by a private physician, the results must be forwarded to the Gwinnett County Health Department.

In a letter to families, Lilburn Middle School principal Gene Taylor said there are two important things to keep in mind about tuberculosis.

"First, tuberculosis is a disease that is hard to spread to others. Close and continuous contact over hours is necessary to transmit (give) the disease to another person," the letter states. "Second, even if a person is infected with (given) the TB germ, they cannot give it to another person without being ill with the disease themselves. This does not happen right away and may take years."

TB is treatable, and medication can help a person fully recover, Salgado said.

For more information about TB, call the Gwinnett County Tuberculosis Control Program at 678-442-6880.