TB outbreak cause for concern
Published: Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 14:07
Earlier this year, Florida saw its worst outbreak of tuberculosis in 20 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The outbreak failed to receive an adequate amount of attention and was not only neglected by state health officials, but the outbreak was also accompanied by the closing of A.G. Holley State Hospital, announced a little more than a week prior to the CDC’s report on the situation. The report was released on April 5, just nine days after Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill that slashed funding to the state’s health department. As a result, A.G. Holley, a renowned hospital for its dealings with extreme tuberculosis cases for more than 60 years, closed on July 2.
The CDC report also estimated that more than 3,000 people might have come into contact with the 253 people found who tested positive for the disease. Despite modern advances in medicine, TB is still an extremely serious diagnosis, especially for the infected group, found mainly in the area’s homeless shelters, jails and a mental health clinic. People in these locations do not have regular access to health care or access to the antibiotics needed to quell the outbreak. If a treatment regimen isn’t strictly followed, antibiotic resistant strains of the disease may emerge. Thirteen have died, and 99 cases of illness have been reported so far.
“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,” Dr. Robert Luo of the CDC stated in his report. Released nearly three months ago, the report still has not received the attention or circulation needed for such a grave public health concern, and Florida’s actions thus far have hardly followed Luo’s suggestions.
The fact that the severity of the outbreak has been understood for several months, yet the public was just informed in summer is troubling, but not quite as troubling as Scott’s decision to close one of the most vital resources amidst such a serious outbreak. This reaches far beyond irresponsible politics. This is an undisputable public health risk that was swept under the rug and still to this day has not been dealt with properly. The reality the state faces is much more serious than the one that’s been portrayed by state officials. Those who are homeless have been able to go untreated and potentially spread the disease without any knowledge they carry it. The state is not doing nearly enough to rein back what threatens to be a huge blow to Florida’s public health status, and the death toll could easily spiral out of control unless serious measures are taken to ensure otherwise.