A staff member at Westside Elementary School in Thermal has been diagnosed with active tuberculosis and Riverside County health officials are working with school representatives to identify students and staff who might have been exposed to the illness.

The staff member is receiving treatment and is expected to recover. The individual is not being identified due to confidentiality requirements.

Riverside County health officials are sending out letters to the parents or guardians of about 160 students who might have been exposed to the illness. The school also will notify staff members who might have been exposed.

Parents who receive the letter from Public Health are being advised to have their child tested at a TB clinic planned at the school at a later date. Those who do not receive notification are considered not to be at risk for exposure, and tuberculosis testing is not recommended.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria usually attack the lungs, but TB bacteria can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine, and brain. Not everyone infected with TB bacteria becomes sick. As a result, two TB-related conditions exist: latent TB infection (LTBI) and TB disease. If not treated properly, TB disease can be fatal.

Symptoms of TB disease depend on where in the body the TB bacteria are growing, according to the CDC. TB bacteria usually grow in the lungs (pulmonary TB). TB disease in the lungs may cause symptoms such as

  • a bad cough that lasts 3 weeks or longer
  • pain in the chest
  • coughing up blood or sputum (phlegm from deep inside the lungs)

Other symptoms of TB disease are

  • weakness or fatigue
  • weight loss
  • no appetite
  • chills
  • fever
  • sweating at night

Riverside County Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser emphasized the risk of transmission is low.

“While the risk of infection is low, it’s important that parents who receive the notification letter get their child tested,” Kaiser said in a prepared statement. “The testing is quick and can provide peace of mind for both parents and children.”

Tuberculosis is a disease spread through the air during prolonged, repeated and close contact with an individual who is infected with active tuberculosis. People can contract TB when breathing air exhaled by someone who is sick with the illness. When left untreated, TB can result in serious complications.

Tuberculosis is not spread by shaking hands, sharing food or drink, or via bed linens or toilet seats. Not everyone infected with tuberculosis bacteria becomes sick. A person with inactive (latent) TB cannot spread it to others.