But after reading another piece of Big Journalism from the Palm Beach Post‘s Stacey Singer about how a tuberculosis strain, described by a visiting official from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as among the worst his group had seen in 20 years, has been found in 18 counties outside of Duval County (where the TB strain began), my imagination is left wondering what the state’s reaction would have been and would be had the TB outbreak made its way to Tampa?
Singer reports that “although state health officials maintain the outbreak is now mostly contained within the Jacksonville homeless, a state database obtained by The Palm Beach Post on Friday showed sick people with FL 046 have also popped up in 17 other Florida counties.”
Earlier this week, a top Florida health official said prudent steps have already been taken to contain this outbreak.
Florida Department of Health officials said a spike in TB cases among homeless people in Jacksonville is being aggressively addressed and recent media reports that the outbreak has been kept secret are not justified. “After these inaccurate reports, it is important for the public to know, the number of TB cases in Florida has been trending downward for several years,” said Dr. Steven Harris, DOH deputy secretary for health. “The increase in this particular strain of non-drug resistant TB has affected approximately 99 people over the past eight years.”
Harris was responding to a news story first published in The Palm Beach Post and then picked up by other publications. The story related to an April report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention following a surge in cases of the highly contagious disease that appeared to be clustered in a homeless shelter, a jail and an outpatient mental health clinic in downtown Jacksonville. The CDC report raised alarm by noting that the outbreak, first detected in 2009, represented the largest such TB flare-up the CDC had been involved with since the 1990s. The report went on to say most of the potentially infected persons remain undetected and highly mobile, a combination that makes it more difficult to contain and treat the disease, which requires a relatively long and deliberate regiment of drugs and can become resistant.
The report came as state health officials were in the process of closing down A.G. Holley State Hospital in Palm Beach County, the state’s last facility dedicated to tuberculosis treatment. Lawmakers involved in the closure have said they had no knowledge of the CDC report. Slated for closure by the end of the year, state health officials accelerated the process and closed the facility six months early. “I think the two issues are separate,” said Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and chairman of a key Senate health care committee, who said he was unaware of the CDC report, which came out after lawmakers had already completed their work and gone home.