GREENWOOD, S.C. — Federal health officials say the death of a 79-year-old man earlier this year is linked to the outbreak of tuberculosis at a Greenwood County school, but he did not die of the disease.
The man died in April at a Georgia hospital, and an autopsy determined he had tuberculosis, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The man sang in a band with the 71-year-old janitor who is suspected of spreading tuberculosis germs around Ninety-Six Primary School.
The singer’s family indicated the men performed together for years until December, when his health – which had been deteriorating for several years – rapidly declined, says a report the CDC sent last week to the Department of Health and Environmental Control, which had asked the federal agency for assistance.
The 79-year-old singer died of complications of acute respiratory distress syndrome, days after state health officials identified him through its investigation into the janitor’s contacts and contacted the hospital, the report says. It estimates that the singer had been infectious with tuberculosis since September.
The janitor visited his friend in the hospital in early March. Also in early March, the janitor went to the doctor himself. The Department of Health and Environmental Control removed him from the school. The CDC estimates he had been infectious since July 2012.
The state agency has been highly criticized for its investigation. While 12 school employees were tested in mid-April, it wasn’t until late May that students and other faculty were tested for the disease. Director Catherine Templeton has apologized repeatedly for her agency’s mistakes, primarily not testing children sooner.
More than 100 people, including more than 50 children, have tested positive for germs associated with the airborne disease. The 12 associated with the school who developed active tuberculosis disease include the janitor – whom Templeton ordered quarantined when he wouldn’t stay home – and 10 children who are not contagious. All are receiving treatment.
Only the janitor and a teacher at the school developed active tuberculosis. Templeton said Friday that after treatment, neither are contagious and are no longer in confinement.
While DHEC’s disclosures have focused on school-related cases, the CDC report included the singer and another adult in the janitor’s home who tested positive.
DHEC has tested about 1,500 of the rural community’s 2,000 people. Follow-up tests began last weekend. Templeton said no one has been found to be currently infectious, meaning they aren’t sick and can’t get others sick.