Surgeon general: Jax TB screenings continue

Published On: Aug 31 2012 03:28:45 PM EDT   Updated On: Aug 31 2012 11:13:09 PM EDT
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -

State health officials Friday said an effort to identify and contain an outbreak of tuberculosis within Jacksonville's homeless community has so far found a single active case and 311 non-infectious cases out of more than 3,000 people tested.

Six weeks after launching an aggressive push to contain a new strain of the contagious disease that has shown up in the region, Florida Surgeon General John Armstrong said more than 150 state and local health officials have descended on the city to screen potential carriers.

He stressed again Friday that people living in the Jacksonville area are safe.

"Rest assured, we have had and will continue to have the resources necessary to manage the 'Duval cluster' investigation to completion as we sustain our Florida system of care for tuberculosis," Armstrong told reporters during what he said was the first in a series of weekly updates.

Last month, officials ramped up efforts to contain a relatively new strain of TB that is believed to have first infected people in northeast Florida in 2004. Officials didn't know about it until 2009. In the eight years since it first showed up in the area, it has infected 112 people, killing 13 of them.

TB cases in Florida have steadily declined from 1,764 cases in 1994 to 753 last year. So far this year, 284 TB cases have been reported.

Since the effort began, Armstrong said officials have screened more than 99 percent of Duval County's homeless population of 2,533. In addition, TB-infected patients gave names of other people with whom they had direct contact. Of those, 93 percent have been tested.

Officials also have screened just over half of 2,100 people who may have had contact with TB infected patients at one of the shelters or other facilities in the area.

Armstrong said the TB rate in Jacksonville's homeless population is not out of sync with national trends and said efforts to identify potential carriers may set new standards for other states to follow.

"We have found a latent tuberculosis rate of 10 percent, which is consistent with the national norms for the homeless population, and we have engaged in treatment of all identified individuals," Armstrong said. "We will see this through to the end."

So far, the effort has cost about $185,000. State officials are expecting a $250,000 federal grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in October. Local health officials now plan to hand over management of the investigation to the state.

"After six weeks of intensive activity, it is appropriate to transition to a state incident command system so the Duval County Health Department can continue to do the rest of public health in Duval County," Armstrong said.