Florida health officials deny cover-up in TB outbreak
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Reuters) - Florida state health officials have denied they covered up a sharp spike in tuberculosis infections among the homeless in Jacksonville and said the public was not at risk from what is believed to be the worst TB outbreak in the nation in 20 years.
At least 13 people have died and another 99 have contracted TB in the outbreak in Jacksonville, the state's largest city with a population of 825,000.
The Florida Department of Health said local, state and federal officials were working to contain the infections and that there was no need for a highly publicized alert even though up to 3,000 people may be at risk of contracting TB.
State health officials also defended their decision not to raise a general alarm because the population of infected homeless persons appeared isolated and contained.
"In this particular cluster, the general public was not at risk, because the cluster affected a defined sub-population," Dr. Steven Harris, the department's deputy secretary, told Reuters on Friday.
He said the department's first priority for communicating information about TB cases was to those at highest risk of exposure and added that "it is nearly impossible to catch TB" from casual contact with an infected person on the street.
TB is caused by airborne bacteria spread through coughing or close contact with those already infected.
"To be at risk, you must be exposed to the organisms constantly, by living or working in close quarters with someone who has the active disease," he said, noting that most people who are infected never have symptoms or spread the infection.
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