Middle school in south China criticized for spread of tuberculosis among students
A high school in Taojiang, South China's Hunan province is accused of covering up tuberculosis (TB) cases and refusing to suspend classes or take any preventative measures, leading the infectious disease to explode among its students.

On Thursday, the official website of Taojiang local government admitted that there had been a TB outbreak in the No.4 Taojiang Middle School, but did not mention the exact number of people infected or causes of the epidemic situation. On Friday, the Hunan provincial Health and Family Planning Commission announced that by November 16, a total of 29 students had been diagnosed to have tuberculosis, although some earlier reports claimed the number of confirmed cases in the outbreak to be much bigger.

Multiple parents of infected students told The Paper on Thursday they had counted the total number of students diagnosed with TB to be over 50, among which 42 are from the same class of the school. The interviewed parents and students provided treatment records and medical imaging reports to prove their statement.

On the same day, Wen Zhiqiang, the director of Taojiang Disease Control Center, told The Paper he's clear about the exact number of students infected, but he could only report it to his superior departments, and could not disclose it to the media due to certain regulations.

The disease affected mainly in the school's class No. 364 of 89 students. Till now, over 30 students are still continuing their learning at the school. And the unusual herd infection incident that happened in August was only recently unmasked to the public.

In August, the outbreak was discovered by the local disease control authorities, and on October 22, Li Ye and her classmates revealed it on social media. After her post was forwarded by two big “V”s—opinion leaders on China's social media platforms, the TB outbreak in Taojiang began to gain intensive media coverage and national attention.

While the local media over the past three months since many students in the class 364 were found to be infected has reported the issue, the school has refused to suspend classes and when students asked permission to wear masks, they were refused on the ground that similar acts would “make everyone jittery”.  A netizen who claims to be familiar with those involved wrote the school management had said things like “no one is dying, so no class suspension”.

The parents of class 364 told The Paper between August and September, 39 students were diagnosed with TB. Zhang Ya (alias), a student, indicated that after the first herd infection in August, the school took some preventive measures, making sure all infected students didn’t attend the school.

But it refused to send the remaining students home. The parents and students interviewed confirmed that in November, a dozen of those continuing their learning at school were found to have TB.

An eastday.com commentary said the middle school had gone so far in order to avoid an interruption in the studies of twelfth grade students, so their grades in gaokao, or university entrance exam, are not affected. Gaokao grades are, in most cases, the only evaluation criterion for middle schools.

On Thursday, the propaganda department of Taojiang government announced that by November 15, 90 percent of the sick students had gone back to school or were diagnosed to be capable of returning.

However, Li Ye told Everyday Figure, the Wechat account of People magazine, she has been diagnosed with hepatic and renal dysfunction and it's hard for her to sleep at night. “I eat dozens of pills every day to cure the disease,” she said, noting in this case she still hopes to attend next year's gaokao. Some of her classmates in the class are confronting even more severe situations.

According to Li Ye, a female classmate of her who was hospitalized this June, was recently also diagnosed as tuberculosis of intestines and pelvic, while another male classmate is found to be suffering from fibrosis of the lung, almost a fatal state. “His father passed out knowing the result,” she said.

The class 364 is the only class for elite students among the school's 15 liberal arts classes in the twelfth grade which is expected to take gaokao next year.

Southern Weekend, an influential Chinese newspaper, also interviewed several students of the class.

Li Lan, who contracted TB, told the newspaper the source of the outbreak should be a student transferred to the class in September 2015. Several students recalled that because the student kept coughing heavily, their math teacher took him to the hospital for a physical examination. And after a few months, the student suspended his schooling and it was said he had pneumonia.

In July 2016, another student began to cough and he also left the school. “We heard that he had TB later but back then, we knew little about the disease,” Li told the newspaper.

In January 2017, Li found her desk-mate was using medicines for TB. “Our teacher praised him for not asking for leave and he later told us he had TB although his situation is determined by doctors to be not contagious anymore. The student is generally regarded as the third one to contract the lung disease.

Liu Nan, who was diagnosed with TB this April, confirmed what Li said. She once overhead several teachers talk about the source and all of the aforementioned male students were mentioned. Liu Nan was once a student in the class 364, although in the eleventh grade she was transferred. Since then, there were students from other liberal arts classes being diagnosed with TB, and most of them were originally from the class 364.

The Taojiang school epidemic was first reported by a local clinic. On January 24, one patient who claimed himself to be a laborer was diagnosed with TB at a clinic affiliated to the Taojiang Disease Control Center. And between February and July, five patients who claimed themselves to be either farmers or workers were successively confirmed to have contracted the disease at the same clinic.

On July 26, three of the patients ran into each other there and their conversation attracted a doctor's attention. It was later found out that all the three were from the Taojiang No.4 Middle School. The disease control authorities immediately started a field investigation and found that the other three patients were also from the same school.

Between August 10 and 19, the center screened all the students, some teachers and parents of the students there. Out of a total of 2,942 people, 91 were tested positive to the antibody.

It's reported by the China Press that the local authorities have just announced on Saturday to fully investigate the whole case to find out if there is dereliction of duty or misconduct by the office involved in dealing with the epidemic situation.

Now, many parents of the infected students are working together to fight for the rights and interests of the young people. They've proposed the related authorities to provide their kids life-time medical insurance while some even asked for some preferential treatments in the 2018 gaokao.


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