DHEC observes World TB Day, continues efforts to eliminate tuberculosis (TB) in South Carolina
To raise awareness about tuberculosis (TB) prevention and treatment methods, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) is joining national and international partners in recognizing March 24 as World TB Day.
The goal of DHEC’s Tuberculosis Control Program is to eliminate tuberculosis in South Carolina. Throughout the 1600-1800s, tuberculosis caused 25 percent of all deaths in Europe, with a similar death rate in the United States as well, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 1882, it was discovered that tuberculosis is a bacterial disease found primarily in the lungs, and it spreads through droplets from the lungs or throat of a person with TB disease in the air. TB can be spread when the person with the disease coughs or sneezes, and the droplets with the bacteria are breathed in by someone nearby.
DHEC and its predecessor agency, the South Carolina Department of Health has been actively treating South Carolinians with TB since at least 1915, when it opened the South Carolina Sanatorium in Columbia, which was a hospital dedicated to the treatment of people with TB. By 1942, it had 550 beds and was almost always full. In those days, treatment consisted of rest and surgery, and patients often stayed in the hospital for months. Sadly, many also died there, as back then 29 percent of the patients with TB in the sanatorium died from their illness.
Today, there are effective antibiotics that can cure TB, and hospitalization is rarely required except in patients with advanced disease. As a result, the sanatorium closed in 1983, since almost all people with TB can now be treated successfully at home.
Because early diagnosis and treatment are important to ensuring a good outcome, it is strongly encouraged that anyone with possible symptoms of TB to seek care as soon as possible. When a person is diagnosed with TB disease, a contact investigation is performed to identify other people who may have been exposed in order to help protect their health and limit spread of the disease.
“Through increased awareness, prevention efforts, public health interventions, improved methods for early diagnosis and assuring patients complete their treatment, the number of TB cases in South Carolina has continued to decline year by year,” said Amy Painter, director of DHEC’s Tuberculosis Control Division. “While the COVID-19 pandemic has had a global impact on TB disease detection, we remain hopeful that our ongoing efforts will help continue to minimize TB infections. On World TB Day, we join local, state, national and global efforts to recognize achievements in TB prevention and sustain our commitment to ending this devastating disease.”
Tuberculosis disease is a reportable condition in South Carolina and throughout the United States, meaning once a person is diagnosed by a medical provider, that case is required to be reported to the appropriate public health department so that effective measures can be taken to protect others from becoming sick.
A person can have “active TB disease,” meaning they are ill with symptoms and potentially contagious, or “latent TB infection (LTBI),” meaning they are infected with the bacteria but don’t have symptoms and can’t spread the infection. LTBI can develop into active TB, so it needs to be treated as well. Medicine is available to successfully treat someone with active TB, and if someone has LTBI they can take medicine to avoid developing active TB disease.
“TB is on the decline in South Carolina and across the country; however, too many people still suffer from the disease ever year,” Painter said. “In the past four years, South Carolina has had less than 100 TB disease cases per year, but TB remains one of the top infectious killers in the world. Up to 13 million people in the United States have latent TB infection, according to the CDC. Enhancing our efforts in South Carolina now for identifying and treating LTBI presents the real opportunity to eliminate TB disease in South Carolina.”
DHEC provides medications by Directly Observed Therapy (DOT) for all TB cases at no cost to the patient, performs contact investigations on all infectious cases of TB disease, treats LTBI, offers consultation services to community partners regarding TB and offers public outreach materials that help educate South Carolinians about tuberculosis.