Students tested for HIV and hepatitis

More than 30 John F. Kennedy Middle School students were tested Tuesday to confirm that none of them contracted blood-borne diseases during a science experiment gone awry, while school officials continued to investigate the incident.

A substitute teacher oversaw six science classes on Thursday in which he pricked students’ fingers with a lancet and directed them to examine the small amount of blood drawn under a microscope. A lancet is a medical instrument that can resemble a needle or knife and is used to draw small amounts of blood for testing.

Over the course of a day, an unknown number of lancets had been used on approximately 30 students. Though it remains unclear how many lancets were used, the teacher reportedly reused them on different students.

After a concerned parent alerted them of the incident, district officials notified parents via phone and letter last week, assuring them that the risk of contracting a disease was very low.

Phlebotomists and nurses were on hand Tuesday to answer questions of approximately 15 parents and perform baseline tests on 33 students who may have been exposed to foreign blood for hepatitis B and C and HIV, San Mateo County Health Department spokeswoman Doris Estremera said. The health department’s results should be available in two weeks, but some parents elected to have their children tested at private doctors, she said.

Even if the baseline tests come back negative, the health department recommends the students undergo testing again in six months.

Hepatitis B is the health department’s main concern, but the chances of contracting it are very low given the students’ age group and their required vaccination against the disease, according to Dr. Alvaro Garza, a health officer with the county healthdepartment. There is no vaccination against hepatitis C or HIV, but those are even harder to contract in this manner, Garza said.

“As a doctor, you always look at the potential for certain diseases,” Garza said. “Given this age group, it’s incredibly unlikely.”

District officials, as part of their investigation, are currently interviewing any teachers who may have advised the substitute on his lesson plan. Superintendent Jan Christensen has contacted Child Protective Services and the Redwood City Police, who will determine whether any legal or criminal action should be taken against the substitute.

While Kennedy Middle School had blood testing in its science curriculum in the past, none of the schools in the Redwood City Elementary School District do now, Christensen said. The preferred way to study and understand a living cell — the goal of the assignment — is by scraping the inside of each student’s cheek.

tramroop@examiner.com

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