A person with active tuberculosis visited 26 schools in the Las Vegas area over more than a year, exposing over 600 people to the infectious respiratory disease.
Public health officials launched an investigation this month into whether tuberculosis, which takes time to incubate, spread across the desert community during that period. School officials have begun contacting people who were possibly exposed to the disease.
The person, who public health officials declined to identify, is currently isolating and receiving treatment, Jennifer Sizemore, a spokesperson for the Southern Nevada Health District, wrote in an email. Officials have declined to say why the person visited so many school sites, or whether the person was a student, parent or employee. They also declined to provide the person’s diagnosis date.
The infected person was symptomatic for more than a year before receiving a diagnosis of TB, said Sizemore, of the health district. The public health agency for Las Vegas and the surrounding region began investigating the exposures on Dec. 4. The person, who was unaware of the infection, visited more than two dozen campuses during different periods.
Health officials have begun notifying people at these campuses based on whether they were there at the relevant locations during the time periods the person was present. They are looking into the level of contact the infected person may have had with others at each school, Sizemore said.
In letters to parents Thursday, schools indicated that health officials would coordinate to test students and staff who were believed to have had close contact, according to the local TV outlet KLAS 8 News Now.
There were no known exposures at eight elementary school campuses. However, varying numbers of people may have been exposed at 17 local elementary, middle and high schools and a Clark County School District training site, public health officials said in an update on Friday.
A parent’s nightmare:Tuberculosis outbreak in Omaha exposes 500 kids and staff at YMCA
One school, Ruthe Deskin Elementary School, in the northwest part of Las Vegas, issued a broad notification about possible exposures, according to the health district.
Testing at Deskin is expected to begin in January for all students, Sizemore said. Based on the timeframe of exposure, it will take until then for health officials to detect an infection among students and staff. In the 2022-2023 school year, Deskin had 475 students, according to a district report.
Testing for individuals at other campuses began this week, though far fewer students and staff at those schools were expected to get tested.
The health district will use a blood test to detect TB, Sizemore said.
“The Health District is emphasizing that not everyone who may have been exposed will be infected and not everyone who is infected with TB has active disease,” the health district statement said. “TB screening and testing are provided to identify cases of latent TB infection.”
People who have a latent infection don’t show signs or symptoms of the disease, the health district said. They aren’t sick and can’t spread the disease to others.
In an email, the Clark County School District said it was assisting the health district in its investigation.
Prior exposure to 500 children, staff at Nebraska daycare
Mass exposures of this type are rare, but they’re not unprecedented. In recent months, there have been recent TB cases at Kansas, North Carolina and Washington schools with hundreds of people possibly exposed.
In November, Nebraska officials tested more than 500 children and staff at an Omaha YMCA drop-in daycare center for possible exposure to TB. The outbreak prompted a public health emergency.
Tuberculosis’s incubation period is between two and 10 weeks. In Omaha, the exposures would have happened between May and October. The infected person had an onset date of symptoms in late August, which required officials to also look back to May to capture anyone who may have become ill in prior months but who hadn’t thought of tuberculosis as a possible cause.
A person infected with tuberculosis can infect others by coughing, sneezing, speaking or singing, Lindsay Huse, health director for Douglas County, in Nebraska, wrote in a Nov. 9 letter. When they do these things, germs travel from the infected person’s lungs and float in the air that others breathe.
What are the symptoms of tuberculosis?
Symptoms of tuberculosis include:
- a cough that endures for weeks,
- a cough that has blood or sputum;
- pain in the chest;
- fatigue or weakness;
- chills, fever or night sweats;
- no appetite or weight loss.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 8,300 cases across the U.S. in 2022.
Eduardo Cuevas covers health and breaking news for USA TODAY. He can be reached at EMCuevas1@usatoday.com.