TAMPA - Department of Health officials held a telephone briefing out of Tampa to announce changes in the statewide system of treating tuberculosis and protecting the communities where TB is diagnosed.
The Center for Disease Control recently released a report saying a cluster of cases among the homeless in Jacksonville and Duval County was one of the most extensive TB outbreaks they've been invited to assist with since the early 1990's.
Health officials responded by saying they've had 284 cases in the state so far this year, 43 were in Duval County, 16 of a particular strain among the homeless there they are watching. But over all, the number of cases statewide is going down.
They also pointed out the changes in statewide policy were not in response to that cluster in Jacksonville but partly in response to the closing of the state's and the country's last TB sanitarium.
Then health officials unveiled the changes in the new statewide system. Dr. Doug Holt is the director of Hillsborough County’s Health Department. “What the system does is it formalizes relationships within the counties so that patients can be better served locally. In the past we might have had to send people sooner to the hospital.
When TB is diagnosed the first step is to make sure it’s treated with medication and the sick person is isolated. Most patients can be treated at home but in case of the homeless, the Health Department is tasked with finding a safe place to isolate and treat to prevent spread. In the Jacksonville area, they were using cheap motels.
Dr. John Armstrong is Florida’s Surgeon General. “The Department of Health will not be using motels for transitional facilities for patients with active TB who do not have a home.”
Dr Holt describes where Hillsborough County patients may be treated. “For us we could use boarding homes. They could be apartment efficiencies that are individualized.”
Dr. Armstrong says, “Health personnel will go to those locations and they will do a variety of things. One, make sure medications are being taken, right dose, right time. Second, making sure other services are being provided so a patient doesn't leave, so that does include food and dealing with laundry.”
The Health Department says it tests for TB across the state all the time, but they are also testing to see if the strain in Jacksonville is spreading. Dr. Armstrong adds, “We have not identified any spread based on that strain at this time across the state.”
Presently in Hillsborough Dr. Holt says they're managing around 40 active cases. That's similar to statewide but less than last year.
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