Orlando officials team up to fund homeless TB testing

Health workers in central Florida are preparing to launch a program that will test homeless residents in the area for tuberculosis.

The Orlando City Council was expected to approve funding on Sunday to begin the testing, which will test people on the streets, in wooded camps or in homeless emergency shelters. The program will begin in the wake of the Jacksonville area facing the worst TB outbreak in the U.S. in two decades, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

"We are trying to be proactive," Bakari Burns, the CEO of the non-profit Health Care Center for the Homeless in Orlando, said, according to the Orlando Sentinel. "To treat one individual for drug-resistant TB can cost upwards of $250,000, so we need to identify and treat people who are infected. And once they start the regimen, you really need them to follow through until it's finished."

Thirteen TB patients in Duval County died as the result of a TB strain circulating among individuals who stayed at homeless shelters or who were treated at an outpatient mental-health facility.

The screening program in central Florida is expected to cost approximately $87,000. The cost could save the state hundreds of thousands in care for homeless people that contract the disease.

"It could break the bank at the state level if we have a lot of homeless people who come down with TB," Rick Stevens, the tuberculosis program and surveillance coordinator for Orange, Osceola, Brevard and Seminole counties, said, according to the Orlando Sentinel. "It costs all of us a horrendous amount if we don't prevent it."

Testing will begin in mid-November, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

"I'm extremely optimistic," Cathy Jackson, the CEO of the Orlando-based Homeless Services Network, said, according to the Orlando Sentinel. "The whole process is going to be very user-friendly. When homeless folks know that you're coming in to help them with medical issues, they're generally pretty cooperative."