TALLAHASSEE, FLA. -- Federal health officials reported that an outbreak of tuberculosis, which had its epicenter in the Jacksonville area, is the worst that has been seen in Florida in roughly two decades.
The strain of TB is believed by health officials to be linked to 99 illnesses and 13 deaths.
According to published reports in The Palm Beach Post, the CDC report was written in early April, less than two weeks after Gov Rick Scott signed legislation that required the closure of Lantana's A.G. Holley state hospital.
A.G. Holley was the only facility in Florida which had been dedicated to treating the tougher cases of TB.
The Post report indicates that health officials with the CDC compiled their report based on cases and queries sent to them by the head of the Duval County health department.
The report went unseen by many key decision makers in what may be a case of good intentions misfiring.
The Post report indicated there may have been concerns about unduly alarming the public.
While the attempt to fight the epidemic in Jacksonville continued, so did the work to close A.G. Holley.
At least one state lawmaker, state rep. Matt Hudson, told the Post that the state would absolutely find the money to deal with this.
According to the Post report, Hudson said there was every reason to take such cases as seriously as humanly possible.
State health officials, when contacted by this reporter, forwarded an email that contained both a timeline of the events and a statement from Steven Harris, M.D., the Florida Department of Health's Deputy Secretary for Health.
The timeline is a photo attachment to this story, which can be opened or saved in full resolution. It deals with the outbreak from the first notice of this TB strain in 2008 to the present.
Dr. Harris vigorously defended the response to the outbreak, saying health officials on the federal, state, and county levels acted swiftly and in concert.
His statement is reprinted here in its entirety.
"The inaccuracies cited in several media reports are outrageous. As soon as the Department of Health (DOH) saw a slight spike in the FL0046 Tuberculosis strain, we immediately reached out to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and engaged stakeholders in the community.
"As soon as the CDC site visit was completed, we re-formed The Jacksonville Community Tuberculosis Coalition which enlisted several community partners including the City of Jacksonville, the Mayor's office, local officials, local hospitals, the Sheriff's office and homeless shelters. The very purpose of the coalition is to ensure the homeless population is protected, the cluster is contained and the locally affected community is informed of the isolated strain within an isolated population.
"Contacting these local government officials, community organizations and hospitals is a clear sign that these actions were conducted with the utmost level of transparency.
After these inaccurate reports, it is important for the public to know, the number of TB cases in Florida has been trending downward for several years. The increase in this particular strain of non-drug resistant TB has affected approximately 99 people over the past eight years."
Reports from health agencies indicate, however, that the outbreak may be affecting still more people; and that is prompting calls for more vigilance among those who are in the health care field.
Tuberculosis is a contagious lung infection which can be treated with antibiotics.
If left untreated, it can be fatal.