South Carolina has about 300 new cases of tuberculosis (also called “TB”) each year. While that’s a low number, the state does have one of the highest rates nationally. TB is contagious and, if untreated, fatal 50 percent of the time. Anyone who has it is required to be quarantined.
But what if the infected victim refuses to be treated, increasing the risk that the disease could spread?
Currently, a health officer has to prove to a probate judge that the person is a “menace to others” before the state can quarantine them. Rep. Kris Crawford (R-Florence) says his proposed new law would give health officials more freedom to deal with those who could endanger the public.
You end up with less legal process, less strain on the court system, (and) more of an administrative process. Which is reasonable in today’s environment, where the science behind determining who has honest-to-goodness drug-resistant TB is more certain.
The bill will be on the House floor this week, where it faces little debate.
It would give Department of Health and Environmental Control officials the ability to forcibly detain a person who refuses treatment–temporarily bypassing the need for a judge’s ruling. A person could be isolated for up to 10 days before a court hearing has to be scheduled. Crawford said medical tests could easily determine if a person has drug-resistant TB in that amount of time.
Crawford says the state’s TB laws are extremely out of date and need to be updated. One problem is that the patients are currently required to be held in a special ward at the State Park Health Center which no longer exists. Another problem is existing law only requires quarantining patients if they have pulmonary TB–which is the most common infection in the lungs. Crawford, a doctor himself, says TB can sometimes spread elsewhere in the body.
Crawford says he hopes the new law will rarely be used, since the few people who get TB usually seek help immediately.
It’s very, very, very small to nonexistent in South Carolina in any given year. Honestly, almost everybody is willing and grateful to get treatment for the condition. However, should someone fall outside those guidelines, it’s not fair to put the entire public at risk.