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Florida surgeon general: Jacksonville TB outbreak not a public threat

Florida Surgeon General John Armstrong said the state’s Department of Health is still identifying and screening Jacksonville resident who may have come into contact with people infected with tuberculosis. But he also wanted to assure people who may live in or visit the area that they are not in harm’s way.

“The people of Jacksonville and of Duval county remain safe,” he told members of media during a conference call Friday morning.

The Jacksonville outbreak is among the worst the nation has seen in many years, and over a dozen people have died. However, the strain causing the infections is both treatable and traceable, Armstrong said.

Efforts continue to identify and screen people who may have come in contact with people with active infections.

So far, the state has tested 93 percent of “named contacts,” people with can be identified by name as people who TB patients had direct contact with. However, the state has only tested 53 percent of 2,100 “location contacts,” people who were in the same building as someone who had TB.

Health officials also tested virtually the entire homeless population in Duval County. As a result, they found one active case of TB and 311 latent cases, meaning people had infections but were not sick or contagious. That number represents 10 percent of the homeless population.

So far, the state has spent $185,000 to support the investigation. It is also anticipating a $250,000 supplemental grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Armstrong said the state is reviewing how it has handled the outbreak, first brought to the public’s attention after a scathing Palm Beach Post article. Already, he has created an Office of Public Records Requests, and the Office of Performance Improvement continues to look into the matter.