Emergency Declared on Tuberculosis in California City

Emergency Declared on Tuberculosis in California City
A doctor examines the x-rays of a tuberculosis patient in a file image. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Authorities in a California declared a health emergency last week due to an outbreak of tuberculosis in Long Beach after it left at least one dead and more than a dozen infected.

The Long Beach city health officer issued the declaration on May 2 to increase resources for tracking, screening, and treating people who have been exposed in the outbreak linked to a hotel, the city health department said in a news release.

As of April 29, there were 14 cases. In addition to the single death, nine have been hospitalized at some point and about 170 people have been identified as likely to have been exposed.

“The outbreak is currently isolated to a distinct population and the risk to the general public is low,” the department said in a statement. “The population at risk in this outbreak has significant barriers to care including homelessness and housing insecurity, mental illness, substance use and serious medical comorbidities.”

The statement added that people connected to a “single room occupancy hotel” were likely exposed, adding that “the name of the hotel will not be released.”

“The facility is a private hotel not operated by or contracted with the City of Long Beach,” city officials continued to say. “People who were staying at the hotel at the time or could have otherwise been exposed have been or will be contacted by the Health Department.”

Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria that usually attack the lungs, and it is spread through the air when an infectious person coughs or sneezes. The number of U.S. tuberculosis cases in 2023 was the highest in a decade, according to a report last month by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In California, there were 2,113 new cases in 2023, an increase of 15 percent over 2022, according to the state Department of Public Health in an update earlier this year.

Several weeks ago, the state issued a “health advisory” due to the aforementioned increase, alerting health care providers across the state. Health care officials in the Golden State should consider tuberculosis in the “differential diagnosis of community acquired pneumonia or other respiratory illnesses, particularly among patients with a risk factor for TB (tuberculosis) or with prolonged symptoms,” the agency’s statement said.

They were advised to test and treat for a latent infection “among patients at risk for TB to prevent progression to active TB disease,” the agency added at the time. Meanwhile, local officials and providers should report suspected and confirmed cases to their local health departments.

Those at major risk for tuberculosis include those who lived outside of the country where tuberculosis rates are relatively high such as many nations in Latin America, the Middle East, Asia, and Eastern Europe, according to the state health department. They also include people with compromised immune systems, being in close contact with a person with active tuberculosis, were or are homeless, or people who have lived in a setting such as a prison or a jail.

A report released last year by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services revealed that thousands of illegal immigrants under the age of 18 who were diagnosed with latent tuberculosis were released across the United States between June 2022 and late May 2023.

What to Look For

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that, without treatment, can easily lead to death. Some historians have estimated that it may be the most deadly disease in human history, surpassing even the bubonic plague or smallpox.

The usual symptoms of active tuberculosis are a chronic cough for three weeks or longer that can have blood-containing phlegm, fever, chills, malaise, night sweats, appetite loss, fatigue, swellings that don’t go away, and weight loss. Tuberculosis can also spread outside the lungs to other parts of the body, which may present different symptoms, according to health officials.

People with latent tuberculosis cases don’t show any symptoms, officials say. Latent tuberculosis can progress to become active after months or years but cannot spread the bacterial infection to others.

“Tuberculosis spreads easily where people gather in crowds or where people live in crowded conditions,” the Mayo Clinic says. “People with HIV/AIDS and other people with weakened immune systems have a higher risk of catching tuberculosis than people with typical immune systems.”

If tuberculosis spreads outside the lungs, other symptoms can be present depending on whether the bacteria is located in the body, according to the clinic’s website. Common symptoms include fever, night sweats, weight loss, chills, tiredness, pain near the infection site, and not feeling well in general.

Common areas where tuberculosis can spread other than the lungs include the kidneys, liver, the fluid around the spinal cord and brain, heart muscles, lymph nodes, bones and joints, voice box, the skin, and walls of blood vessels, officials say.

“The [tuberculosis] bacterium is spread through the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks, sings, or laughs. It’s very unlikely to be spread from personal items that a person with [tuberculosis] has touched,” health officials with Cedars-Sinai hospital say, adding that “early diagnosis and treatment of the person” with an active infection is “most important.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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