TB cases rose among homeless as South Fla. hospital closed

Federal health officials have determined that a serious tuberculosis outbreak occurred among the homeless in northeast Florida just as state officials moved to close a South Florida hospital specializing in the disease.

Robert Luo, an official with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sent a report to Florida health officials on April 5 warning them of a tuberculosis outbreak in Jacksonville. The outbreak was connected to 13 deaths and 99 TB cases, Associated Press reports.

"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," Luo said, according to Associated Press.

The report warned that 3,000 people in the past two years may have been in close contact with contagious people at outpatient mental health clinics, jails and homeless shelters in the Jacksonville area. Only 253 people were located and screened for the disease and a third of them tested positive for exposure to TB.

The A.G. Holley State Hospital in Lantana, one of four tuberculosis hospitals left in the country and the only one in the state, closed on July 2. The hospital closed after a bill was signed in March to consolidate the state's Department of Health. State Rep. Matt Hudson (R-Naples), a supporter of the health agency consolidation, said he did not know about the CDC report or the outbreak until Friday.

In 2011, Duval County sent 11 patients to the Palm Beach County hospital under court order. Health officials with the county decided not to inform the general population because they believed the outbreak was contained within the homeless population. The county made the same decision during a 2008 outbreak. The county's health department asked for help from the CDC in February when the number of TB cases rose.

"We thought after 2008 that we had it contained," Bob Harmon, the Duval County Health Director, said, according to Associated Press. "It was not contained. In retrospect, it would have been better to inform the general population then."