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Schools rely on county’s TB testing
Officials waiting for results from Wayne Farms survey

By Bayne Hughes · 340-2432

Decatur school officials are waiting on the Morgan County Health Department to let them know whether they have to deal with the tuberculosis issue.

TB has been an issue locally since the identification of two active cases in recent weeks at Wayne Farms chicken processing plant in Decatur. The company announced Thursday that it would require all 1,300 employees to submit to tuberculosis skin tests.

Decatur Superintendent Sam Houston and Morgan County Superintendent Bob Balch said they have been in contact with health officials to discuss their identification and notification processes.

“I’m sure they follow up and test the families,” Houston said. “Then they’ll notify us of the potential to spread (into the schools).”

State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said he is “gravely concerned” that TB could potentially move into the schools. While Wayne Farms is testing all of its employees, he is concerned about those who don’t work at the plant but come into contact with its employees.

He said the state should consider testing all immigrants, legal or illegal, as a condition of employment or school attendance.

Dr. Scott Harris, an infectious disease physician working with the Health Department, said the department would have seen the families on the day of the diagnoses.

“If the kids weren’t clinically sick, then they can’t be infectious,” Harris said. “They might be — and probably are — latently infected, but they are not infectious. The risk is basically zero.”

Houston said he remembers lining up every student in school to give them a TB test when he began teaching in the late 1960s. However, the state has not required students take the TB test as part of required immunizations since the 1970s.

Pam Barrett of the state Department of Public Health’s Field Service Division of TB Control said routine TB tests in schools are unnecessary. She said local health departments usually identify TB-infected people through their investigations.

“Children are not as high risk,” Barrett said. “And there’s so little TB that it’s not something that should be done.”

Not harmful

Brenda Caudle, supervisor of Health Services for Morgan County Schools, is a registered nurse. She said the TB test is not harmful to students. Barrett said children get the same test as adults. The only drawback would be the time and cost of administering the tests.

The Health Department would have to send paid staff members to each school to administer the tests, which cost about $12 per 50-dose vial.

Even if they did require TB tests, Chip Miller, supervisor of attendance and the alternative schools, and Caudle said there are different standards for new students who have a home versus new immigrants and homeless students.

A student who transfers in from another school system within the country cannot start school without the proper blue immunization form.

A federal law passed in 1992 doesn’t allow schools to deny entry for immigrants, even if they are illegal, or homeless students. The law says they must have “immediate access.”

Stefanie Underwood, supervisor of special education, oversees Decatur’s English-As-A-Second-Language Program. She said school officials try to accept the students into school and get them to the Health Department for their immunization shots the same day.

The Health Department issues a temporary, 30-day immunization form, but Miller said this time period probably isn’t enforceable.

“We have to let them go to school,” Miller said.

Miller and Underwood said getting these immunizations has not been a problem because most are willing.

Immunization schedule

Each child enrolled in day care, Head Start and public or private schools in Alabama must have a valid Alabama Certificate of Immunization on file.

The state does not recognize philosophical, moral or ethical exemption from vaccination. A physician can issue a medical exemption.

A local health department can issue an Alabama Certificate of Religious Exemption.

State law requires a child entering kindergarten through 12th grade to receive the following age-appropriate immunizations:

  • A minimum of four doses of diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccination. The last dose must be administered after the child’s fourth birthday. Booster doses of tetanus-diphtheria toxic vaccine must be given five to 10 years after the preschool booster.

  • Four doses of polio vaccine, separated by at least 28 days. Only three doses needed if the third dose was administered after the fourth birthday.

  • Immunization against mumps and rubella administered at 1 year old or later.

  • Varicella vaccine on a schedule unless there is documentation of positive varicella titer or date of varicella disease. This requirement was effective for students entering kindergarten beginning fall of 2001 and escalates by successive grade for the following 12 years to include all grades beginning fall of 2013.

    The schedule is: One dose at age 1 or older for persons less than age 13; and two doses separated by at least 28 days for ages 13 or older beginning the series.

    Source: Alabama Department of Public Health

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