Florida ignores deadly tuberculosis outbreak

AFP Photo/Stephane De Sakutin
Officials in Florida recently closed one of the leading tuberculosis hospitals in the Sunshine State, even amid what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called one of the worst TB epidemics in decades.

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told Florida health officials earlier this year that a tuberculosis outbreak was ravaging the state, authorities did little to address it. Instead of following through with suggestions for immediate action, the state actually ordered A.G. Holley State Hospital in Lantana, FL, a well-known TB center, to be closed.

In a 25-page report penned April 5, the CDC’s Dr. Robert Luo warns, “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.” By that point the lung disease had already taken 13 lives and was linked to nearly 100 other non-fatal cases. The center’s bulletin was not brought to the attention of state officials, however, who instead were acting under Governor Rick Scott’s just-signed order to shrink the Department of Health and close A.G. Holley, where TB had been combated for more than 60 years.

The Palm Beach Post now reports that instead of health officials circulating the urgent bulletin after its early April release, the public was not privy to the outbreak until June. Talking to the paper this weekend, State Rep. Matt Hudson (R-Naples), who leads the House Health Care Appropriations Committee, says he was never even told of the outbreak. Other officials also say they weren’t clued in on the scare, even though the CDC explicitly asked for mandatory testing and screening to be conducted on all medical workers in Duval County, for example, where citizens were being subjected to the highest TB rate in the state.

Adding to their report, The Palm Beach Post says that they were only presented with records relating to the outbreak this past Friday. They had been demanding copies for several weeks and were only able to secure them after a reporter with the paper traveled across the state to ask in person.

When A.G. Holley State was closed on July 2 this year, 18 TB patients were released into general population, despite still being considered contagious. Now with the state’s only TB hospital out of operation, the toll the disease takes on Floridians could only worsen. The state has since housed up its known TB patients at area motels in order for local nurses to find them and dispatch drugs.

Elsewhere in the CDC memo, the center reveals that 3,000 people could have been in direct contact with contagious TB cases in only the last two years, yet as of recently, only 253 of those were identified.