5 lawsuits filed against DHEC amidst TB outbreak - FOX Carolina 21

5 lawsuits filed against DHEC amidst TB outbreak

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NINETY SIX, SC (FOX Carolina) -

According to local officials, a total of five lawsuits have been filed against the state health department along with an Upstate school district amidst a recent tuberculosis outbreak.

Since news of the exposure and spread of TB broke, five lawsuits were filed against the Department of Health and Environmental Control, according to the Greenwood County Clerk of Courts. Some of the lawsuits include District 52 as a defendant.

"Primarily they had the responsibility to get out ahead of the problem instead of letting the problem to develop and explode like it has," said attorney Billy Garrett Jr., who is representing one of the class-action cases with at least 35 plaintiffs.

After the first suit was filed, both DHEC and Greenwood 52 responded to the litigation. Click here to read more about what they had to say.

More on TB outbreak in Ninety Six

As of Wednesday, DHEC said a total of two adults and 10 children connected to Ninety Six Primary School had abnormal chest X-rays, indicating they had TB disease.

DHEC said the adults are contagious but the children are not because of their age. One of the contagious adults is the person who initially spread the disease, according to DHEC.

Since May 28, 603 people associated with the school have had TB skin tests and of the 603, 74 had positive results - 55 of whom were children. A positive result means the person has the TB infection, but it's dormant and not contagious, according to DHEC.

Additionally on Wednesday, DHEC said they had tested 501 people since March 8 that had no connection to the school. Of the 501 tests, 25 showed positive results and one person had an abnormal chest X-ray but their results were deemed non-infectious, according to DHEC.

The positive results stemmed from a TB outbreak connected to an employee at Ninety Six Primary School in Greenwood County, according to DHEC.

Because the index patient was infectious for several months, DHEC said they are offering tests to anyone who spent time at the Greenwood County District 52 school.

FOX Carolina obtained an unredacted copy of an emergency public health order issued by DHEC, which identified the index patient as Willie Spearman.

DHEC issued the order against Spearman on Thursday, detaining him at a Columbia health facility to receive treatment for TB, stating he had failed to inform them of everyone he had contact with since July 2012 and had not followed some of their other requests.

More on TB infection vs. disease

DHEC officials have repeatedly said that anyone who tested positive for the TB infection following skin tests are not contagious, only those with the disease are. DHEC also said there is no definitive way to confirm what source someone developed the latent infection from because they could have had it prior to the Ninety Six outbreak.

While TB is airborne, health officials said people can only get if from someone with a contagious version of the disease and must spend an extended period of time with that person.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, TB is spread through the air from one person to another when a person with TB disease (not the infection) coughs, sneezes, speaks or sings. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected.

However, the CDC said TB is not spread by shaking someone's hand, sharing food or drink, touching bed linens or toilet seats, sharing toothbrushes or kissing.

DHEC has set up a special website for information about TB, which can be found by clicking here.

DHEC said anyone concerned about being exposed to TB should contact their primary care provider or call the Greenwood County Health Department at 864-942-3600. He said those patients will be charged for a test.

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