Tuberculosis Outbreak in Jacksonville: Worse in 20 Years CDC Reports
A report was sent to Florida health officials by Dr. Robert Luo of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that a tuberculosis outbreak in Jacksonville was the worse seen in 20 years.
Governor Rick Scott had signed a Department of Health bill that required the closure of A.G. Holley State Hospital in Lantana, where tuberculosis cases have been treated for more than 60 years on April 5, just nine days before the CDC issued its warning about the tuberculosis outbreak.
In Dr. Robert Luo's report, he wrote that 3,000 people in the last two years have had contact with tuberculosis at Jacksonville's homeless shelters, an outpatient mental health clinic and in area jails. However, only 253 people had been located and screened for tuberculosis, and a third of them tested positive for tuberculosis exposure, Luo wrote.
The public didn't learn of the tuberculosis outbreak until June when a man with TB was spotted in a Jacksonville soup kitchen. Officials believed it was contained within the homeless population and it was unclear whether the outbreak had spread beyond areas where the homeless congregated in Jacksonville. That's why Duval County health officials decided not to inform the general population.
"What you don't want is for anyone to have another reason why people should turn their backs on the homeless," said Charles Griggs, the public information officer for the Duval County Health Department.
According to the Post, the tuberculosis outbreak cover-up began in February, "when Duval County Health Department officials felt so overwhelmed by the sudden spike in tuberculosis that they asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to become involved. Believing the outbreak affected only their underclass, the health officials made a conscious decision not to tell the public, repeating a decision they had made in 2008, when the same strain had appeared in an assisted living home for people with schizophrenia."
A decision to keep it under wraps was a bad decision because by April, it had spread to the general public. The tuberculosis outbreak in Jacksonville has caused 13 deaths and 99 illnesses, including six children, according to a report by The Palm Beach Post.
"The high number of deaths in this outbreak emphasizes the need for vigilant active case finding, improved education about TB, and ongoing screening at all sites with outbreak cases," Luo wrote in his report.
Worst Tuberculosis Outbreak in 20 years in Jacksonville
What is Tuberculosis?
Each year, more than 13,000 cases of tuberculosis are reported in the United States. Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease that is spread through the air from one person to another. There are two kinds of tests that are used to determine if a person has been infected with TB bacteria: the tuberculin skin test and TB blood tests.
General tuberculosis symptoms may include feeling weak or sick, weight loss, fever and/or night sweats. Symptoms of TB of the lungs may include cough that lasts for 3 weeks, chest pain and/or coughing up blood.
An estimated 10 to 15 million people in the U.S. who are infected with the TB germ with the potential to develop TB disease in the future. If a person gets a TB skin test and it comes back positive, they must take an antibiotic daily for as long as six months.