Tuberculosis Outbreak Infects Dozens at Chinese College

October 16, 2020 Updated: October 18, 2020

While the COVID-19 pandemic is still ravaging the world, a series of tuberculosis (TB) outbreaks at a major Chinese university was revealed via social media posts and local media reports. The Epoch Times has also interviewed a few students and obtained internal government documents that indicate local authorities attempted to cover up the TB epidemic.

Tuberculosis is a respiratory infectious disease that usually causes lung infection. Those with latent TB infection don’t have symptoms. Without proper treatment in time, 10 percent of patients with latent infection will progress to active TB, with a fatality rate of 50 percent, according to the World Health Organization.

Jiangsu Normal University Conceals TB Cases

Jiangsu Normal University issued a notice on the evening of Oct. 14, stating that from Oct. 10 to 11, 43 students were isolated for medical observation after their CT scans showed abnormality in their chests. On Oct. 12, 22 students tested positive for TB and took a leave of absence from school. The notice also said that since August 2019, students have contracted TB and showed signs of infection, but it did not specify the number of students infected.

The university did not explain how the students became infected nor whether the school enacted prevention and control measures since TB cases surfaced last year.

Students suspected the university covered up the TB cases, Chinese media reported.

According to a report by Chongqing Morning Post, on Oct.14, a netizen posted on Chinese social media Weibo that a number of students at the Pan’an Lake campus of the university’s College of Science and Arts were infected with TB. In September, many students tested positive during a purified protein derivative (PPD) skin test, but the school did not pay enough attention to it, the report stated.

State-run Beijing News interviewed three university students. They said that in 2018, a software engineering student at the College of Engineering was diagnosed with TB. Since then, the university has organized a PPD test every year. In 2019, three students at the engineering school were diagnosed with TB.

On Sept. 29 this year, the university organized a meeting for students who tested positive. A student surnamed Han from the software engineering program told the Beijing News that other students from the School of Humanities and Business also attended the meeting.

Another student surnamed Xiao said that the school authorities downplayed the severity of the situation. They did not talk about preventive measures and only told the infected students to seek medical treatment, he told the Beijing News.

A software engineering student surnamed Wang said that some of the students paid for their own CT examinations. At present, 11 students in one of the software engineering classes tested positive for TB and are being treated at a hospital, he said.

Wang said that on Oct. 14, a university faculty interrupted his class and gave a general lecture on TB. Then, the faculty member announced that all classes were suspended that afternoon and would resume the next day, the Beijing News reported.

According to public data, Jiangsu Normal University has more than 8,600 students.

The Epoch Times obtained a university notice that was recently sent out to all students around the time the TB outbreak was exposed on social media. In the notice, the university warned students against posting comments about the university’s TB outbreak on the internet and to remove any related posts: “delete and delete them as soon as possible. Otherwise, you will be held responsible and face the consequences.”

Epoch Times Photo
Jiangsu Normal University’s notice to silence the students about the TB outbreak. (Provided to The Epoch Times)

The student who leaked the document to this publication said that there are currently around 50 people at the university under observation for TB infection, but he couldn’t divulge more information. “I’m sorry I can only say so much. The school has conducted a very strict investigation, and I’m really not allowed to talk about it,” he said.

The Epoch Times also interviewed a student from the Pan’an Lake campus of the Academy of Sciences and Arts, who said the campus has TB cases. All students who tested positive have been admitted to the local center for disease control, while the remaining students will resume class as usual.

Past TB Outbreaks in Schools

In recent years, tuberculosis outbreaks have occurred frequently in schools across mainland China, according to various Chinese media outlets. But local authorities and school administrators tried to cover up information.

In early January, Chinese media Red Star News reported on a TB outbreak in the Slender West Lake campus of  Jiangsu Yangzhou University—which was exposed by students on social media. Red Star News obtained confirmation from the university’s Youth League Committee that many students in the school were infected. But the university did not disclose the number of students who were infected and claimed that the situation was under control.

In early November 2018, The Epoch Times reported on a TB outbreak in Shangluo University in Shaanxi Province. The university and local authorities concealed the epidemic for over a month until a student shared the information with The Paper, a Shanghai-based state-run outlet.

In September 2018, 28 young children and four faculty members at the Experimental Kindergarten (Nijiaxiang branch) in Zhouzhuang town, Jiangyin city, Jiangsu Province were found to be infected with TB, Chinese web portal Sina reported. Parents were outraged and questioned why local authorities failed to curb the spread of the disease in a timely manner.

In December 2017, 13 cases of TB were discovered at a health school affiliated with Shanghai Medical College, Chinese news portal Sohu reported.

In August 2017, a TB epidemic broke out in the Fourth Middle School in Taojiang county, Hunan Province. More than 300 high school students and teachers were infected. The epidemic was not reported until Sept. 9, 2018, when a high school student, who had previously attended the middle school and tested positive for TB at the time, tried to commit suicide by cutting her wrists. Due to her illness, she was unable to catch up with schoolwork and was academically behind. She experienced a mental breakdown due to the stress, according to a report by msguancha.com, a Chinese news portal that covers human rights abuses and government corruption.

In 2016, authorities in Luoyang city, Henan Province concealed a TB outbreak that occurred at the Luoyang Institute of Technology. The disease had spread for at least nine months, based on a government document recently obtained by The Epoch Times from a trusted source. The confidential report, titled, “The Response to Individual Netizens Spreading the News of TB Infection at the Luoyang Institute of Technology” was issued on Dec. 27, 2016 by the Luoyang Municipal Commission of Health Planning.

Epoch Times Photo
Leaked report from the Luoyang Municipal Commission of Health Planning on the  TB outbreak in Luoyang Institute of Technology. (Provided to The Epoch Times)

The internal notice stated that Luoyang Institute of Technology had successively reported confirmed tuberculosis cases since March 2016.

It also mentioned that starting in March 2016, the city’s Center for Disease Control had screened all teachers, students and staff of the school in three batches. More than 20,000 people were screened. As of the publication of this notice, a total of 26 cases had been confirmed: 19 cases in the Wangcheng campus of the college, three cases in the Kaiyuan campus, and four cases in the Jiudu campus.

However, the outbreak was covered up by the school until Dec. 26, 2016, that the situation was reported online by netizens.

Another internal government document issued on Dec. 26, 2016, revealed that the Luoyang Municipal Commission of Health Planning received a notice from higher authorities about the students’ online discussions about the mass testing. Authorities referred to their online comments as “inaccurate” and “a misunderstanding.” The commission then notified the Municipal Internet Information Office and Municipal Stability Maintenance Office to monitor and control online speech and public opinion on the outbreak.

Gu Xiaohua, Ling Yun, and Gu Qing’er contributed to the report.