Marti Brentnall, TB Outreach and Education Coordinator, County of San Diego
It’s that time again – the start of a new school year! For many parents, the sound of the school bell is also the opportunity to volunteer in their children’s classroom. If you are volunteering for your child’s school for the first time, you may need to complete a few steps before being allowed on campus to volunteer, including the completion of an application, a security check and a tuberculosis clearance. While the first two steps might be self-explanatory, sometimes there is confusion with the third one.
What is a tuberculosis clearance, why do you need it and how do you get one?
A clearance for tuberculosis is needed for teachers, support staff, volunteers and contractors to protect everyone’s health at our local schools.
Tuberculosis, commonly known as TB, is a bacterium that usually attacks the lungs, but can also attack other parts of the body such as the kidney, spine or brain. Tuberculosis bacteria are spread through the air from one person to another when a person infected with the disease in their lungs or throat coughs, speaks or even sings.
In 2018, 226 active TB cases were recorded in San Diego County. In addition, it is estimated that at least 170,000 people living in San Diego County have the sleeping form of TB, better known as latent TB infection. Individuals with latent TB infection can be healthy and not know that they have been exposed. This is why it is important for people that work with large, vulnerable populations, such as children, get cleared for TB.
Due to a State of California health code change in 2015, a TB clearance no longer means just getting a TB test and presenting the result to your school. Instead, a person interested in volunteering in any school, grades K – 12, must first complete a TB risk assessment.
This risk assessment is a six-question document that you complete with your children’s school nurse or health technician or your own health care provider. Once completed, a school health representative or your provider will let you know if any additional follow up is needed, such as a TB test. The great news is that once you receive your TB clearance, you will not need to repeat it again for four years, unless your children change schools and you want to continue your volunteer service.
The County of San Diego Tuberculosis Control Program works closely with the San Diego County Office of Education and its School Nurse Resource group to train and update school nurses throughout the county on school TB clearance requirements. If you have a question about volunteering at your children’s school or getting a TB clearance, please contact your school directly.