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State of Florida Hides TB Outbreak. Poor African American Men Most Of The Sick Ignored.

A disturbing story has been published by the The Palm Beach Post in Florida describing an effort by the State of Florida to suppress information about the worst TB outbreak in the state in 20 years.

“The CDC officer had a serious warning for Florida health officials in April: A tuberculosis outbreak in Jacksonville was one of the worst his group had investigated in 20 years. Linked to 13 deaths and 99 illnesses, including six children, it would require concerted action to stop.

That report had been penned on April 5, exactly nine days after Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill that shrank the Department of Health and required the closure of the A.G. Holley State Hospital in Lantana, where tough tuberculosis cases have been treated for more than 60 years.

As health officials in Tallahassee turned their focus to restructuring, Dr. Robert Luo’s 25-page report describing Jacksonville’s outbreak — and the measures needed to contain it – went unseen by key decision makers around the state. At the health agency, an order went out that the TB hospital must be closed six months ahead of schedule.

Had they seen the letter, decision makers would have learned that 3,000 people in the past two years may have had close contact with contagious people at Jacksonville’s homeless shelters, an outpatient mental health clinic and area jails. Yet only 253 people had been found and evaluated for TB infection, meaning Florida’s outbreak was, and is, far from contained.”

Of course this story gets worse.  In the report issued by the Center for Disease Control staff stated that many of the victims of this TB outbreak “wasted away before ever getting treatment, or were too far gone by the time it began.  Most of the sick were poor black men.”

For so many reasons this story should cause outrage not only in Florida but across the world.  We already have a problem in our nation, created by our history, of underserved and underrepresented populations not trusting the medical establishment.  To read this story and see that the clear inabilities and incompetence demonstrated by Florida health officials to take action on the CDC’s report will only add to this distrust.  How will we be able to convince African American men to trust our healthcare system with stories like this?  They likely won’t and for good reason.

We are not that far removed from the Tuskegee Experiment.  When government deliberately takes no action to stop a serious outbreak of a disease, such as TB, because of incompetence or lack of caring most people will conclude that those in charge of ensuring the public health don’t truly care about the health of all the public.

While we should all be outraged by what has happened, the important part of this story now becomes what will Florida do to immediately ensure the public that they are addressing their lack of action?  First Florida must ensure that they will never again turn their back on a disease such as TB just because it is affecting a segment of their population that lacks a political voice.  Beyond that Florida must take immediate action to stop the spread of this strand of TB before it becomes resistant to treatment.  This is one of our worst fears in medicine.  That a disease, such as TB, will not be treated properly and because of that it develops into a super bug that cannot be treated.   Finally the state of Florida, hello Governor Scott are you listening, must investigate why those in charge of the public health did not respond to the CDC report in April.  Yes we have read that the Governor and Legislature made the idiotic decision to cut funding for the public health infrastructure and close the hospital that had treated hard cases of TB for 60 years, but that does not excuse the lack of action by public health officials.  The voters in Florida will get to decide the fate of those elected officials who created this mess but while they wait for the next election those that currently hold elected office need to start a very public investigation/hearings on how this could happen.

We close by thanking The Palm Beach Post and their reporter Stacey Singer for digging deep on this story.  If it was not for this dedication to seeking the truth and upholding their responsibility to share these type of stories with the public it is likely that Florida would still not be taking any action.

You can read the full story by visiting The Palm Beach Post website.