Deadly Strain of Tuberculosis Hits U.S.

By Frank Whalen

In the 1970s, U.S. health officials had nearly eradicated tuberculosis (TB). But in the past 30 years, it’s a little-known fact that TB is staging a comeback thanks largely to a lack of healthcare among the poor—and unchecked immigration into the country.

Take Jacksonville, Fla. The city of nearly 900K has become the epicenter of the largest TB outbreak seen in the last two decades, and it all began four years ago.

According to The Florida Times-Union, in 2008 a “single schizophrenic patient had circulated from hospital to jail to homeless shelter to assisted living facility, living in dorm housing in many locations.” That year, “18 people in that community developed active tuberculosis from the strain called FL 046; two died.”

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The current situation was not disclosed to the public until recently, despite the fact that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been tracking outbreaks for months.

Reuters reported that “Florida’s health department called in the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in February” due to the escalation in cases. The CDC report, released in April, was not acted upon, and the public wasn’t aware of the situation until this summer.

Thus far, “13 people have died, and another 99 have contracted TB,” while thousands may have been exposed. Officials said the reason for keeping the outbreak under wraps is that “the population of infected homeless persons appeared isolated and contained.”

The CDC’s findings contradict that rationale. The Times-Union stated that, “3,000 people in the past two years may have had close contact with contagious people at Jacksonville’s homeless shelters, an outpatient mental health clinic and area jails. Yet only 253 people had been found and evaluated for TB infection, meaning Florida’s outbreak was, and is, far from contained.”

Illegal immigration is also a grave concern for health officials in the U.S. as well. As of now, the only people who are tested for TB are those who come to the U.S. legally. The millions of illegal aliens currently hiding out in the U.S. may be spreading TB unbeknownst to themselves or their families.

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The danger here is related to the proliferation of strains of TB that are resistant to antibiotics and other forms of treatment. In 2004, it was estimated that there were 420K cases of these forms of TB, the majority of which were found in Africa, Southeast Asia and Central America. And while, in the U.S., there were only a few hundred cases of drug resistant TB in the past decade, that number seems to be rising.

Not surprisingly, the states in the U.S. that had the most cases of multi-drug resistant TB pop up in the last 10 years were New York, California, Texas and Florida. These are also the states with the highest populations of illegal and legal immigrants.

As the TB cases spread around the country, the possibility of antibiotic-resistant strains developing grows more likely. If the conditions continue to deteriorate, Florida could even see a forced quarantine.

Frank Whalen has been a radio talk show host since 1994, and worked as a consultant for Maxim magazine. For more news and views from Frank, see Frank Whalen Live.