No, 27 Kansas High School Students Do NOT Have Tuberculosis

Sensational headlines imply Olathe Northwest High School students have tested positive for the deadly disease - which is misleading.

On Wednesday, reports emerged that 27 people have “tested positive for tuberculosis” at a suburban Kansas City school, implying the students have tested positive for the disease – which is not true.

The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment tested 304 students and staff members last week after a student was diagnosed with an active case earlier this month.

Though 27 students were positive, it doesn’t mean that they have active TB. It just means that these people have been exposed to the bacteria and can undergo treatment to avoid its development.

“A positive skin test does not mean that a person has active TB. More tests must be done to check whether there is active disease,” states MedLine Plus – a service of the National Institutes of Health. “An abnormal (positive) result means you have been infected with the bacteria that cause TB. You may need treatment to lower the risk of the disease coming back (reactivation of the disease).

Officials say the infected students will receive chest X-rays and antibiotics paid for by the state and county to kill the bacteria and stop the disease from developing.

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TB is a contagious bacterial lung disease that spreads from person to person through the air. The symptoms include, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),  a bad cough that lasts three weeks or longer, pain in the chest, coughing up blood or sputum (phlegm), weakness or fatigue, fever, weight loss, sweating at night and loss of appetite.

It is the second biggest global pathogen killer after HIV/AIDS and common to contract in underdeveloped or poverty-stricken areas.

Although the disease is rare in the U.S., nearly one-third of the world's population is estimated to have latent TB.

“A total of 9,582 TB cases (a rate of 3.0 cases per 100,000 persons) were reported in the United States in 2013.  Both the number of TB cases reported and the case rate decreased;  this  represents a 3.6% and 4.3% decline, respectively, compared to 2012,” says CDC.

There were 536 deaths from TB in 2011 – the most recent year for which the stats are available. However, the number of annually reported TB cases and deaths has decreased since 1992.

Worldwide, TB claimed around 1.5 million lives in 2013 while World Health Organization warned last year that rates of Multi drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) were "crisis levels."