Los Angeles is facing a health emergency with one of the largest outbreaks of tuberculosis on skid row, according to a Feb. 22 Los Angeles Times report. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reportedly sending scientists to Los Angeles to fight the outbreak.
Health workers have reportedly identified over 4,000 people who may have been exposed and are trying to locate them for testing and treatment. The congregation of the cases in such a small geographic area has health officials very concerned.
“This is the largest outbreak in a decade,” said Jonathan Fielding, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. “We are really putting all of our resources into this.”
Scientists recently linked the outbreak to a tuberculosis strain unique to Los Angeles. The most fragile segment of the target population is the homeless, who have a higher chance of being undiagnosed.
“They go from place to place and the likelihood of passing it along is much greater,” said Paul Gregerson, chief medical officer of the JWCH Institute, which runs a homeless healthcare program on skid row. “It makes everybody more susceptible.”
ABC News reports that this particular strain of the disease is sensitive to drugs, so treatment is effective if the patient is able to get help and follow up with it. However, eight people who got the disease also had HIV, rendering their immune systems less able to fight it off. Of those, six died.
“It’s a very bad combination, especially if it’s not being adequately treated,” Dr. Jonathan Fielding, who directs the LA County Department of Public Health, told ABCNews.com.
To ease the concerns of citizens, Fielding advised, “You don’t get tuberculosis from being next to someone or walking down the street.” The disease is airborne, but not as contagious as the cold or flu. It spreads by “fairly close contact” with infected individuals over an “extended period of time,” he said.
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