TB

The tuberculosis bacteria, as captured by a microscope. Provided/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Someone associated with West Ashley High School has a case of active tuberculosis disease, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

DHEC was notified of the case by a health facility that treated the individual. The agency is barred by health regulations from disclosing any more information about who the person is.

Parents and staff have been notified of the case. Tens of people — but not everyone who attends or works at the school — will need to be tested for the disease. DHEC will provide the test over two days next week.

DHEC learned about the case July 10, and its staff began an investigation and notified the school's administration soon after.

Tuberculosis, which can be treated with antibiotics, is a bacteria that can cause serious health problems if not treated. The bacteria can spread through the air, but Dr. Linda Bell, DHEC's state epidemiologist, said it is not easily transmissible.

Cases of tuberculosis have been on the decline in the state, Bell said, as DHEC works to prevent and control the spread of the disease.

Only people who would have had prolonged contact with the person will need to be tested, and only people with active tuberculosis in their lungs or airways can spread the bacteria, Bell said.

There is a vaccine, but it is not widely used, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

A typical case can require 180 days of medication to cure, according to DHEC's website

Taylor Lee, public health director for DHEC's Lowcountry region, has led the effort to coordinate with the school. Its administration has been cooperative, he said, and everyone who will need to be tested has been notified.

"That partnership plays a big role in how effective our investigation is," Lee said.

About 150,000 people in South Carolina are infected with the bacteria, according to the health department's information, but those infections have only progressed to disease in 153 cases on average in the last five years.

In 2013, more than 50 elementary school students in Greenwood County tested positive after receiving a skin test. The disease was linked to a school janitor who fell ill in March. Parents were not notified until late May.

At the time, Catherine Templeton, former director of DHEC, faced criticism for how the agency handled the outbreak.

Reach Mary Katherine Wildeman at 843-937-5594. Follow her on Twitter @mkwildeman.