Broward News

Florida Government Keeps Tuberculosis Deaths of "Poor Black Men" Secret as Disease Spreads

An outbreak of tuberculosis has spread from Jacksonville to as far south as Miami and was kept secret from the public, according to an expose by the Palm Beach Post.

The CDC team investigating the spread said it is the worst it's investigated in 20 years. At the time of their report in April, 13 deaths and 99 illnesses had been linked to the strain.

And yet, the public was never notified, and the information was kept from lawmakers. Rick Scott closed a state hospital specializing in the disease, seemingly oblivious to the situation.

The Post reports that victims of the outbreak were predominantly "poor black men" and that 3,000 people may have had contact with contagious people at homeless shelters, a mental health clinic, and Jacksonville area jails. Only 253 people have been evaluated for this particular infection, suggesting that the outbreak has not been contained.

But this isn't the first time the Duval County Health Department has kept knowledge of a tuberculosis outbreak from the public. In 2008, the very same strain showed up in an assisted-living home for people with schizophrenia.

This time, only two-thirds of the active cases were directly linked to Jacksonville's homeless and mentally ill. This means that the tuberculosis has jumped to the general population.

So far, details of where active cases are located have not been released. Some of the infected have been relocated to Jacksonville motels so that health professionals can monitor them and make sure they are taking medication. At least one has been sent to Jackson Memorial in Miami.

The Duval County Health Department is understaffed and underfunded. The frontline of the fight to contain the disease has, in some cases, shifted to the homeless shelters themselves. But what isn't clear is to where else the disease is spreading.

With inconsistent medicating, the strain can become drug-resistant, and just one patient can require a two-year treatment program costing upward of $275,000. Wait too long for treatment and victims waste away without much hope for a cure.

Representatives from Duval County, Tallahassee, and the CDC were hardly forthcoming when the Post requested more information. Even getting the original report meant working around continued stonewalling.