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Cape Town - Fourteen nursery school children have tested positive for tuberculosis after being exposed to their teacher’s infection at a school in Hermanus.
The teacher had been ill for several months, but doctors had misdiagnosed her as having a “chest infection”. She was not tested for TB and continued teaching at the Curro Hermanus Private School.
X-ray results are to be released on Tuesday and the children, all younger than six, are to begin treatment.
The school’s principal, Hennie Mentz, said: “The staff member’s TB status was not picked up in repeated visits to different private doctors.
“She was treated for a recurrent chest infection. A TB test was not done, nor was the patient referred to a clinic.”
Once the teacher became seriously ill, she went to the provincial hospital, checking in on October 8. She was tested for TB the same day and found to have the disease. The school was notified immediately.
Parents were notified only on October 17, after which all 70 children at the nursery school were given a skin test.
Those who tested negative are to receive prophylactic treatment for six months.
“The teacher will come back to school only after a negative sputum result and culture have been received,” Mentz said.
“The school has given the staff member extended and fully paid sick leave.”
Mentz hoped publicity about the infections would help more people understand that tuberculosis could affect anyone.
“It doesn’t choose according to who you are,” he said.
“I hope people will realise that we are all exposed to it.”
Mark van der Heever, spokesman for the Western Cape Department of Health, said living in a poor community raised the risk of being infected.
“People from a lower socio-economic background are predisposed to contract TB, due to various social determinants, such as overcrowding, lack of adequate nutrition, and poor infection control measures.”
Up to 74 000 children a year die of TB each year, according to the World Health Organisation’s 2012 estimate – and this figure accounts only for HIV-negative children.
“The urgency of the problem of TB in children cannot be underestimated,” Health MEC Theuns Botha said.
“The school health system in South Africa, and to a lesser extent in the Western Cape, has deteriorated over the past two decades to an unacceptable standard.”
Botha said the infections were an indication that the system needed to be overhauled.
The department would announce a new school health plan for the Western Cape, he said.
“When this is fully operational an incident such as this could be prevented. “