DHEC needs more aggressive approach on TB
Maybe now that the Centers for Disease Control says that TB was a contributing factor in the March death of a Greenwood-area man, things will change in South Carolina
That’s hardly a shining standard for public health, particularly as students head back to school across the state.
Health officials were alerted in March that a janitor at Ninety Six Primary school had the disease, but many children, including 4-year-olds whose class was across from the janitor’s workspace, weren’t tested for three months.
TB is transmitted through the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings. Without treatment, the disease can be fatal.
To be fair, the 79-year-old man who died was in a band with the janitor, and his immune system was likely already compromised, but he was infected with TB at the time of his death.
DHEC’s dispute of that aspect of the CDC’s report is just one more reason why some folks, including legislators, are not thrilled with DHEC’s possible mismanagement of the situation.
Yes, there’s certainly responsibility on the part of the original patient -- the janitor who initially refused to stay home from work.
But there can be little doubt that the delays in notification and testing have caused real harm.
Some former DHEC employees (former because they’ve been fired) said they asked their supervisor about expanding the testing and were told not to, then reprimanded for not going against their supervisor’s direct orders. (The fact that some of them tried to form a TB testing company does not help their claims, however.)
Catherine Templeton has done some good things since being named director at DHEC. She’s made combatting obesity her No. 1 goal. A report last week by the CDC that shows obesity increasing among Southern residents is proof that such attention is needed.
But it’s unlikely anyone at DHEC would say she’s created a culture in which people feel comfortable standing up to their supervisors.
Clearly some members of the Legislature were concerned enough to have a public hearing on Aug. 8. If you saw or read any of the testimony from Ninety Six teacher and parent Robin Cobb, you got a window into the frustration, anger and fear that folks there were feeling.
Her son is one of a dozen people at the school who developed active TB. He has to take drugs for months and months. And because nobody saw him take some of his medication, he may even have to extend the drug cycle.
There was a similar outbreak at a Virginia high school. More than 400 people were tested in June because they came into contact with someone with TB. After two cases were confirmed, the health department in July recommended testing for all students and employees.
It should be some small comfort that if South Carolina faces another infectious disease dilemma, the response is likely to be faster next time — at least, it had better be.