Raising Awareness about Tuberculosis

By Cassandra Harris

Today is World TB Day, and an opportunity to raise awareness about Tuberculosis (TB) and efforts to prevent and treat this disease. Caused by a germ called Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the TB germ is found primarily in the lungsbut can attack any part of the body.

Understanding TB

Spread through the air from one person to another, ​pulmonary TB can cause symptoms including a bad cough that lasts 3 weeks or longer, pain in the chest, coughing up blood or sputum (phlegm), weakness or fatigue, weight loss, no appetite, chills, fever, and night sweats. When someone who is sick with TB coughs, speaks, laughs, or sneezes, people nearby may breathe TB germs into their lungs. Individuals cannot get TB by shaking someone’s hand, sharing food or drink, touching bed linens or toilet seats, sharing toothbrushes, or kissing.

With this stated, it is important to note that not everyone infected with TB bacteria becomes sick. There are two TB-related conditions: latent TB infection and TB disease (active TB). Without treatment for latent TB infection, approximately 5 to 10% of individuals infected with the germ develop the disease. The remaining 90% of the individuals with latent TB carry the bacteria for a lifetime without developing the disease. People with latent TB infection are not infectious and cannot spread TB bacteria to others.

Pervasive, 1/3 of the people worldwide are infected with TB. In South Carolina, approximately 150,000 are infected with the tuberculosis germ, with 112 active TB cases reported in 2013. The total number of reported active TB cases in South Carolina shrank to just 79 in 2014.

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While there is currently no approved vaccine for TB in the US, the good news is that TB is curable with a prescribed course of antibiotics.

DHEC’s Role In Contact Investigations

As part of our work to protect the public’s health, DHEC routinely conducts contact investigations for various communicable diseases, including TB. When alerted of a potential TB exposure, DHEC will complete a contact investigation, evaluation, and treatment if indicated for any individual that is infected with TB. During a contact investigation, trained health department staff determines which individuals have been exposed by visiting all the environments where the person with TB has been, and evaluates each site to determine how the air was circulated.

Recently, our staff was informed by a medical facility of a possible case of tuberculosis disease involving an individual at Conway High School.  Our staff took immediate action to thoroughly assess and manage the situation. Working closely with school officials, we were able to determine where others could potentially have been exposed, as well as which individuals were possibly exposed, and provide testing accordingly.

Thanks to the hard work of our staff, a total of 134 individuals received testing on March 13, 2015 and March 18, 2015. All of these test results are negative.

With the goal of preventing further exposure and potential spread of illness, we make every effort to test all individuals who were identified as at risk for possible exposure. We greatly appreciate all of the hard work of our staff, members of the school district, and individuals who participated in this contact investigation.

For more information about TB, go to http://www.scdhec.gov/tb.

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