Tag Archives: infectious disease

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.

No Measles Cases in South Carolina

By Jennifer Read, Public Health Outreach Director

measlesBy now you’ve likely heard about the measles outbreak associated with travel to Disneyland in California. CDC is reporting 102 measles cases so far this year in multiple states, most of them stemming from the Disneyland outbreak that began in late December 2014. The vast majority of these cases occurred among individuals who had not been vaccinated.

Here in South Carolina, we’re fortunate that no cases of measles have been reported to DHEC. In fact, a review of our current and historical records shows there have not been any instances of measles in South Carolina as far back as 1999.

Measles is among the most contagious diseases known. It is transmitted by contact with an infected person through coughing and sneezing. After an infected person leaves a location, the measles virus remains alive for up to 2 hours on surfaces and in the air.

There are countries where measles is still active and unvaccinated travelers returning from one of these countries could become infected and bring measles back to the U.S. Thus, the concern for outbreaks is related to transmission to people in our communities who are not adequately vaccinated.

From a public health perspective, the current outbreak underscores the ongoing risk of measles and the importance of getting vaccinated to protect yourself and your family. The measles (MMR) vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from the measles and to prevent potential outbreaks.

The MMR vaccine is recommended for all infants at 12 months of age and is a requirement to attend day care or school in South Carolina. Based on school reports to DHEC for 778,588 students on the 45th day of school for the current school year (2014-15), most South Carolina students were up to date on all their vaccines; 5,826 (0.75%) students had a religious exemption and 1,540 (0.2%) students had a medical exemption.

Our Division of Acute Disease Epidemiology will continue to monitor the national outbreak and have sent out a CDC Health Advisory through our Health Alert Network to help keep health care providers, school nurses and our partners updated on this national outbreak investigation.

If you haven’t been vaccinated against the measles, DHEC encourages you to talk to your health care provider.

DHEC Launches New Health Preparedness Network

By Jamie Shuster

HPN signupAs the state’s public health department, one of our most important missions is to help health care workers, organizations and first responders prepare to effectively identify and safely respond to possible public health threats. While we hope that dangerous diseases such as Ebola never appear in South Carolina, we are constantly working collaboratively with our health care partners in every corner of the state to make sure we’re ready to respond quickly to these kinds of emerging public health concerns.

That’s why this week DHEC launched our new Health Preparedness Network (HPN) to help ensure that all individuals who might be touched by a public health emergency receive the latest, most accurate information and guidance to facilitate early detection and prevention of potential outbreaks in South Carolina. Unlike our existing Health Alert Network, which focuses only on updating health care providers, HPN allows first responders, health care providers, school employees, coroners and funeral home staff, and even members of the general public to sign up to receive real-time updates and guidance on an ongoing basis.

One of the major benefits of this new approach is that it allows DHEC to push out information more quickly and to a broader audience than ever before through one streamlined communications tool. Now DHEC will be able to reach the state’s entire healthcare infrastructure and first responders all at once, which will enable both health care workers and organizations to receive information as quickly as possible and make needed adjustments to their service delivery process immediately to safely care for potential patients.

Thank you to our Division of Acute Disease Epidemiology (DADE) and Public Health Preparedness (PHP) teams in central office and our regions who continue to work tirelessly to make sure that South Carolina is prepared to rapidly respond to potentially serious health threats like the Ebola virus. For more information about the new Health Preparedness Network or to sign up to receive updates, click here.

Polio and International Travel

By Jennifer Read

polio vaccineRecently, the CDC issued a recommendation that people traveling to 10 countries in Africa and the Middle East, including Israel, should get a polio vaccine or booster shot before visiting.

Polio is a vaccine-preventable disease that public health workers have been trying to eradicate for over 60 years. Here in the U.S., we’re fortunate. Thanks to aggressive vaccination efforts, our country has been polio-free since 1979.

But with over a billion people crossing international borders each year, vaccine-preventable diseases rarely seen in South Carolina could make their way here. Recently, the World Health Organization declared the international spread of polio to be a public health emergency following 417 new cases of the disease in 2013.

CDC recommends anyone visiting Israel for longer than 4 weeks should get a polio vaccine or booster shot at least one month prior to traveling as a precaution.

Our Immunizations division recommends that anyone traveling out of the country should always visit the CDC’s travel website for updated information on vaccine recommendations by destination.