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Tuberculosis outbreak declared public health emergency in Long Beach, but overall risk remains low, officials say

By Jacqueline Howard, CNN

(CNN) — An outbreak of tuberculosis has led to a public health emergency in Long Beach, California.

City Health Officer Dr. Anissa Davis declared a public health emergency Thursday in response to the outbreak, according to a city announcement, and the declaration is expected to be considered for ratification by the Long Beach City Council on Tuesday.

In its investigation of the outbreak, the city health department has identified about 170 people who have probably been exposed to tuberculosis. But overall, “the risk of TB for people who live, work, study or visit in Long Beach remains very low,” the announcement said.

Tuberculosis, or TB, was found among several people associated with a single room occupancy hotel in Long Beach, according to the announcement. As of Monday, 14 cases were associated with the outbreak. and nine of them had been hospitalized at some point in their illness. One person has died.

The city said that the name of the hotel will not be released to protect patient privacy and comply with regulations, but people who were staying at the hotel or who may otherwise have been exposed will be contacted by the health department.

“The outbreak is currently isolated to a distinct population and the risk to the general public is low. The population at risk in this outbreak has significant barriers to care including homelessness and housing insecurity, mental illness, substance use and serious medical comorbidities,” the announcement said.

Health department staff are in the process of screening contacts for TB based on symptoms, blood or skin tests and chest X-rays, according to the announcement.

“Screening and treating such a large number of people requires many resources,” the announcement said. “Declaring a public health emergency streamlines the Department’s ability to quickly secure resources and take additional action to contain the outbreak.”

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection, usually in the lungs, that can cause coughing, chest pain and fever – but it’s characterized by coughing up blood or mucus. Tuberculosis disease is curable, often treated with a standardized course of drugs that usually includes antibacterial medicines. It can also be prevented with protocols such as screening, vaccination and making sure people who are infected finish their course of treatment.

Last year, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that tuberculosis cases reported across the United States appear to be returning to levels seen before the Covid-19 pandemic.

The US incidence of tuberculosis increased slightly in 2022 after a 20.2% decline in 2020 and a 9.8% increase in 2021, according to the data published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Before the pandemic, the incidence of reported tuberculosis had fallen gradually in the United States from 1993 through 2019, falling to 2.7 cases per 100,000 people in 2019 and then to 2.2 in 2020, CDC data showed. Many tuberculosis cases may have been missed, misdiagnosed or delayed during the pandemic, the researchers said.

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