South Carolina has done a good job of planning but still has some problems in its defense against infectious diseases, according to a report released Thursday by Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
South Carolina ranks in the middle of the pack among states overall, with passing grades for public health funding, preparation for emerging threats and infant Hepatitis B (HBV) vaccination rates. The state got failing grades for flu vaccination rates, planning for climate change-related health concerns, hospital-acquired infections and rapid testing for E. coli cases.
The report, prompted in part by the Ebola outbreak in western Africa, comes to the conclusion more money needs to be spent on planning and preparation to prevent infectious disease outbreaks in the U.S.
“Over the last decade, we have seen dramatic improvements in state and local capacity to respond to outbreak and emergencies,” said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of the Trust For America’s Health. “But we also saw during the recent Ebola outbreak that some of the most basic infectious disease control policies failed when tested.”
In South Carolina, for instance, soon after the first U.S. case of Ebola was reported, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control had to quickly set up a new communications system to share important information with health care professionals. There were email blast systems with some groups, but there was no clearinghouse for that information nor coordinated system for connecting quickly with all hospitals and private health care providers.
South Carolina scored relatively well in the Trust For America’s Health report. It was one of 28 states that increased funding for public health services from the fiscal years of 2012-13 to 2013-14, one of 27 states that scored higher than the national average on the National Health Security Preparedness Index, one of 35 states with high rates of HBV vaccination for children ages 19-35 months, and one of 37 states with a solid HIV/AIDS reporting and surveillance system.
South Carolina’s vaccination rate for the important HBV infant vaccination was 95 percent, but the state got a failing grade for its overall flu vaccination rate of 44.3 percent. State health officials preach the importance of flu vaccine every year, but the vaccination rates have been slow to rise.
Only 15 states have put together plans for adapting to climate change’s impact on public health concerns, according to the report. South Carolina isn’t one of those.
While South Carolina got low marks for its rate of central line-associated bloodstream infections picked up in health care facilities, it was one of 10 states that saw a reduction in those rates from 2011 to 2012. State hospital officials have taken steps to reduce those rates even more in the past two years.
The one category where South Carolina rated particularly low was in food safety. Only 50 percent of positive tests for E. coli, a major cause of food-borne illnesses, were reported to a national database within four days in South Carolina. Detecting outbreaks quickly can slow the spread.
DHEC says that 50 percent figure is from 2011.
“In 2012, our Bureau of Laboratories improved its methods for the detection and identification of E. coli O157, which has allowed us to significantly decrease our turnaround time,” said DHEC spokesman Jim Beasley.
DHEC said the four-day turnaround rate is up to 82 percent in 2014, still below the report’s recommended 90 percent but a huge improvement over 50 percent.