Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

TB expert answers questions on Florida tuberculosis outbreak

Recent reports of deadly tuberculosis cases among homeless people in Jacksonville have put the infectious disease back in the spotlight. State officials say that Florida cases have been declining in recent years, so much so that the Legislature voted to close the state's last TB hospital.

But public health experts say the disease is still a significant threat. There is no vaccine against the respiratory form of TB, treatment is arduous, and the disease is particularly dangerous to people with compromised immune systems.

To find out more, we spoke with Dr. Beata Casanas, medical director of the Hillsborough County Health Department's TB center, and also an associate professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at USF Health.

What is FL 046, the strain found in Jacksonville?

It is (named for) the state where the outbreak occurred, in this case Florida, and the original patient's age, in this case age 46.

People who (have been) in contact with this person and test positive for TB are said to have FL 046. (Hillsborough had one reported contact of that Jacksonville patient in 2010 who was successfully treated.)

Since you can get TB just by being around a person who has it, why isn't it more common?

Actually, it's not that easy to get TB. Only about 30 percent of those exposed to TB become infected. And to be infected you need to be in close proximity of an infected person for a prolonged period of time, an average of about eight hours. The person who has the infection has to be very, very sick, coughing excessively, most likely coughing up blood. That's why we are still able to contain it—as long as we can identify and treat the people who come in contact with infected patients.

What's the key to TB management?

The key is treating each case individually. Every patient has different symptoms, a different living situation, other medical problems, everything is different for each patient. We meet as a TB team every Wednesday morning and discuss each patient's case individually with about 12 experts, including doctors, nurses, social workers, case managers, X-ray technicians and others. We review their case and discuss how treatment is progressing. It's also very important to find and treat those who have come in close contact with active TB patients.

Anything new in treatment?

One of the most important developments was the approval in 2011 of a new treatment protocol for people with what is called latent TB, meaning they are infected, they test positive, but they don't have symptoms and haven't gotten sick from it. We are now able to give these people a combination of two drugs, isoniazid and rifapentine, for three months under direct observation (while a health professional watches them take the medicine), to prevent the disease. We treat them before they become sick and can spread the disease.

How many cases does your team follow in Hillsborough?

We average about 80 total cases a year. But last year we had only 46. That was very unusual and I hope it's a new trend.

This story has been updated to reflect the following clarification: One person who came into contact with the strain of tuberculosis involved in the Jacksonville outbreak was identified in Hillsborough County in 2010. Due to incomplete information from the health department, an article last week failed to note the Hillsborough patient, who has been successfully treated for the disease.

TB expert answers questions on Florida tuberculosis outbreak 07/11/12 [Last modified: Monday, July 16, 2012 3:38pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. What major sporting event could Tampa Bay land next?

    Lightning Strikes

    We are on quite a roll as a community. First, we had a Super Bowl drop from the storm clouds into our lap. It just reaffirms the fact that Tampa Bay is great at lap. And Monday it became official: Next year's NHL All-Star Game will be held at Amalie Arena. The best in the world will be here to shoot and score. And …

    MVP Wayne Gretzky is congratulated at the 1999 NHL All-Star game, the last time the event was in Tampa Bay. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times file]
  2. How the 2018 NHL All-Star Game reflects Jeff Vinik's vision for Tampa

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — There were several reasons the NHL announced Monday that Tampa will host the 2018 All-Star Game on Jan. 28.

    This was the  logo for the 1999 NHL All-Star game played Sunday, Jan 24, 1999 at the Ice Palace in Tampa Bay. (AP Photo)
  3. Photo gallery: Nation pays respects to America's war dead on Memorial Day

    Human Interest

    At Memorial Day ceremonies in Tampa Bay area and around the country, Americans paid tribute to the men and women who gave their lives in service to their country.

    Eight-year-old Piper St. Jean, of Tampa, uses a brush to clean the grave of her grandfather, Henry St. Jean, who served with the United States Air Force during the Korean and Vietnam wars. at Curlew Hills Memory Gardens on Monday moments after the conclusion of their 31st annual Memorial Day Service on Monday (5/23/17) in Palm Harbor. The event featured guest speakers, live choral performances by the Palm Harbor United Methodist Church choir and live music by Bones South, an area trombone ensemble with rhythm section. On Saturday local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops placed flags on veterans???‚??„? graves prior to the event. This is an annual tradition of Curlew Hills' Memorial Day services and helps the Scout troops achieve merit badges. The event is free and the public is invited to attend.
  4. Protest sparks Texas lawmaker threats of gun violence


    AUSTIN, Texas — Hundreds of protesters opposing Texas' tough new anti-"sanctuary cities" law launched a raucous demonstration from the public gallery in the Texas House on Monday, briefly halting work and prompting lawmakers on the floor below to scuffle — and even threaten gun violence — as tense …

  5. Photo gallery: 20 mugshots of pro athletes arrested in Florida - 1994 to 2017


    In light of today's arrest of Tiger Woods in Jupiter, Florida on DUI charges, here are 20 booking mugs of professional athletes who have been arrested in Florida, from 1994 (Jennifer …

    Desmond Bryant - 2005 - Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Desmond Bryant was arrested in Miami on charges of criminal mischief after allegedly "going to a neighbor's house inebriated and causing a commotion."