COLUMBIA — Dozens of people have been infected as part of a tuberculosis outbreak centered at a South Carolina school, state health officials said Tuesday.
During a news conference in Greenwood, Department of Health and Environmental Control director Catherine Templeton said that 58 people at Ninety Six Primary School had a positive skin test for exposure to tuberculosis. That means they are carrying the bacteria but aren’t sickened by it.
Of those 58, Templeton says eight students currently have the disease – something confirmed by X-ray testing – but aren’t contagious. The original person who was infected was a school employee and hasn’t cooperated with investigators, Templeton said. She said the person is quarantined at home until he or she is no longer infectious.
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 a total of 463 employees, pupils and volunteers from the school.
That might sound like a high number, but Templeton stressed that, outside of the original patient’s immediate circle, no one who has not been inside the school recently should be concerned.
“If you have not set foot in the Ninety Six Primary Elementary School this school year, you are not at risk of being infected by this tuberculosis outbreak,” Templeton said.
Not everyone who has the bacteria that causes tuberculosis becomes sick. The bacteria are spread through the air and often attack the lungs, causing a bad cough in those who get infected. The disease can be fatal if not treated.
Anyone who would have been infected by this patient would have contracted tuberculosis likely in January or February, she said.
Those who are infected or exposed will be given free medications for six to nine months, Templeton said.
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.