Florida Kept Lid on Worst TB Outbreak in Decades

Strain linked to 13 deaths and 99 cases: Palm Beach Post
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 9, 2012 11:48 AM CDT
Florida in Worst TB Outbreak in Decades
This 2006 image provided by the Janice Carr of the CDC shows the Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB) bacteria in a high magnification scanning electron micrograph (SEM) image.   (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, CDC, Janice Carr)

(Newser) – Florida is in the midst of the worst tuberculosis outbreak the CDC has seen in two decades—and the Jacksonville outbreak was largely hidden from the public, finds the Palm Beach Post in a disturbing report. The outbreak apparently originated in 2008, when a schizophrenic patient came down with TB but was not treated, and spread it to at least 17 others over a period of eight months, two of whom died. Then, in 2011, there was a spike in that same rare strain, eventually prompting the Duval County Health Department to ask the CDC for help this year. The public was not alerted—nor was it alerted in 2008—and the county health director now acknowledges that was a mistake. "We thought after 2008 that we had it contained," he says. "It was not contained."

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The CDC was brought in, and revealed just how bad the outbreak was in an April report. By then, the strain of TB had been linked to 13 deaths and 99 cases, and as many as 3,000 people could have been exposed—but the report was never seen by key decision makers in Florida, and the public was not informed until June, by which point the strain had reached other parts of the state. Meanwhile, an important hospital for treating tuberculosis was closed, and the state is having a difficult time treating the outbreak since it has spread mainly in homeless communities and other dorm living situations. Now, just 253 of the people possibly exposed to TB have been located, and there are indications the strain has moved into the general population. See the Post's full story for more. (Read more tuberculosis stories.)

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