COLUMBIA — State health officials on Thursday ordered the original patient in an outbreak of tuberculosis to a medical lockdown facility until the infection passes, and a second person has been deemed contagious.
In an emergency public health order, Department of Health and Environmental Control Director Catherine Templeton said the original patient has been “evasive, vague and inconsistent with responses to questions from DHEC staff” who were trying to create a pattern of people who might have been infected.
The person hasn’t been identified, but Templeton has said dozens of positive tuberculosis tests can be traced to an employee at Ninety Six Primary School in Greenwood County.
So far, DHEC says 63 employees and students have had positive skin tests for tuberculosis exposure at the school, where students’ last day of classes was Tuesday. Of those cases, 11 people have developed tuberculosis but aren’t contagious.
A second school employee was found to be contagious, and DHEC is investigating how many people had contact with that person, who has been ordered to stay home.
On May 30, the first contagious patient was ordered to stay at home until the infection passed. But in Thursday’s confinement order – the first issued for tuberculosis since DHEC’s director was given such power in 2011 – Templeton said she opted to take more serious action after the patient lied to DHEC staff, left home without permission and didn’t give a full list of those possibly infected.
“Your failure to fully disclose your contacts places those individuals at significant risk,” Templeton wrote.
Details about the lockdown facility were redacted, but Templeton has said the Columbia facility is the only place in the state where a person could be detained for medical treatment.
Templeton said DHEC learned about the case in March after being contacted by a private physician. Since then, DHEC has contacted people who had been in touch with that person and has tested 546 employees and students.
Not everyone who has the bacteria that causes tuberculosis becomes sick. The bacteria often attack the lungs, causing a bad cough in those who get infected. The disease can be fatal if not treated.
On Wednesday, DHEC said it had begun offering testing to anyone who had recently spent time inside any buildings on the school’s campus.
Those who are infected or exposed will be given free medications for six to nine months, according to DHEC.
Last month, Templeton said several DHEC employees had been fired because they weren’t moving fast enough on the developing case. That news came last week as parents of children at the school met with health officials and voiced concern over not having been notified sooner that tuberculosis could be a concern for their children.