Tuberculosis outbreak in Los Angeles

Public health officials are currently investigating a recent outbreak of tuberculosis in the Los Angeles area.

However, Jonathan Fielding, director of the LA County Department of Public Health and health officer for the county, told reporters during a press conference call that "the TB outbreak is not a threat to the public at large."

Tuberculosis is caused by a bacteria that attacks the lungs and can spread to other parts of the body such as the kidney, spine and brain, according to the LACDPH. If not treated, the disease can be fatal.

Although there were 78 cases related to tuberculosis outbreaks in LA since 2007, 60 of which were among homeless, the public does not need to be overly concerned, according to the LACDPH.

"But part of the problem is that the public understands 'outbreak' as something new they have to be worried about, when, in fact this is clearly a prolonged outbreak that started in 2007," Fielding said. "There is nothing particularly new about it."

According to the LACDPH, tuberculosis-causing bacteria is spread through the air. Unlike other contagions, it is not spread through contact with clothes, drinking and eating utensils, handshaking, or contact with surfaces. The transmission usually only occurs with prolonged, frequent and close contact with an infected person.

As stated by the LACDPH, tuberculosis symptoms include coughing, fever, chills, sweating at night, pain in chest, weakness and fatigue, no appetite, weight loss, and coughing up blood.

However, the outbreak is not an immediate danger to the general public, said Fielding.

People who work with those that may be infected with tuberculosis should be alert and tested, since the signs do not necessarily occur immediately after contamination, according to the LACDPH.

It is possible for someone to have latent tuberculosis, meaning the infected person does not have any symptoms and cannot spread the bacteria, but should still take preventive therapy to avoid the development of the disease.

To prevent further spread in LA, the infected homeless population is being treated, said Fielding. The LACDPH is providing housing, directly observed therapy, and medication until the person is no longer infectious.

If a student at Santa Monica College developed tuberculosis symptoms, the person would be isolated and directed to a medical institution to receive proper treatment, said SMC health science professor Salvador Santana.

"[The outbreak] is an isolated incident," Santana said. "There hasn't been any indication that any of the homeless in Santa Monica are TB-positive."

Jasmin HuynhComment