Florida Government Covers Up Worst Tuberculosis Outbreak In 20 Years

July 10, 2012

In 2008, a Florida homeless man with a severe cough, after bouncing through hospitals, homes, and clinics, was diagnosed with Tuberculosis (named strain 046). Using a grant from the CDC, Florida housed the man in H. G. Holley, Florida’s leading center for the treatment of Tuberculosis. Those he had come into contact with who were also diagnosed with TB were also treated and isolated.

Not wanting to stigmatize the poor and drive away those who serve in soup kitchens and other volunteer organizations, Florida’s government made the decision not to tell the public about the Tuberculosis outbreak. That might have worked out, except that they stopped treating and isolating the patients as soon as the money ran out.

In April of this year, the CDC issued a report on what is now an extensive outbreak of tuberculosis (FL 046) among Florida’s poor and homeless. For months, according to government officials making decisions, the report went unread, not reaching decision-maker’s desks, or else getting buried. Meanwhile, due to budget cuts, H. G. Holley was closed.

In June, as the extent of the tuberculosis outbreak began to be realized by both the government and the public, it was too late. 13 people have died and 99 more have been identified as having tuberculosis symptoms, at least 6 of which are children.

With the general public now affected, at least one official has admitted that it would have been better to warn the public about the possibility of infection.

Treating Tuberculosis Symptoms

Victory arrived just barely too late for Orwell. His friends actually managed to obtain a supply of streptomycin, the brand-new anti-TB drug, from America, but it caused such a violent reaction that every morning when he woke, blood from the ulcers in his mouth had glued his lips shut. It had to be soaked off before he could speak. After several weeks, his doctors had to give up. A less powerful new drug called PAS, which he tried in 1949, didn’t make him so sick, but apparently didn’t much bother the tuberculosis bacilli, either. In January of 1950, an artery burst in his lungs, and at the age of 46, George Orwell drowned in his own blood.

That’s a passage from The Atlantic‘s article on TB published October of last year.

Tuberculosis, even with antibiotics (which wiped it out in most first world countries 50 years ago) is still very difficult to treat. You have a better chance if you catch tuberculosis symptoms early: coughing (especially bloody), sudden weight loss, and night sweats.

A relatively mild strain is treated with an intense cocktail of antibiotics, and treatment lasts at least 6 months. When the rigours of treating tuberculosis symptoms aren’t followed, antibiotic resistant strains of TB quickly develop. For that reason most care providers will supervise treatment.

Antibiotic resistant strains of tuberculosis can take years to treat, and cost more than a quarter of a million dollars. Of course, there are also strains that are resistant to all and nearly all antibiotics.

Tuberculosis Symptoms Spread

The world population has doubled a couple of times since the last time TB was widespread. That will make isolation, a staple for those in Victorian times with “consumption”, much harder to achieve today.

There’s also some concern that Florida officials haven’t identified the full extent of the tuberculosis outbreak. So far, they refuse to release the map identifying which areas have identified patients. The outbreak has also reached a level where they can’t trace every step between the patient from 2008,and those in the general population infected today (or they aren’t releasing that information).

If you live in Florida, or have visited in the last four years, watch for symptoms of tuberculosis. If you work with children (especially in the Florida area), get tested. Some people can be carriers of tuberculosis, showing no tuberculosis symptoms.

If you live in Florida, The Palm Beach Post has an ongoing investigation into the tuberculosis outbreak. Help them to get answers from officials and hold your politicians responsible—these and future TB deaths could have been prevented if they’d followed through on treatment and isolation in 2008.

Share your thoughts below—and if you’re in Florida, go ahead and post about how much coverage the outbreak is getting (it’s centered around Jacksonville).

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