Long Beach to vote on local health emergency as potentially hundreds exposed in tuberculosis outbreak

The city's health department is asking the Long Beach City Council to approve a local emergency declared last week as TB cases have increased locally.

Long Beach to vote on local health emergency as potentially hundreds exposed in tuberculosis outbreak
A person holding up an x-ray of lungs. Photo courtesy of Anna Shvets via Pexels

With Long Beach health officials concerned that a recent outbreak of tuberculosis in the city could spread, the City Council could vote Tuesday night to approve a local health emergency that could lend the city’s health department more resources to contain the disease.

The outbreak was announced May 3 when the city’s health officer declared a public health emergency after 14 active cases of TB were discovered locally, with another 170 people believed to have been exposed. One person has died of the disease, the city confirmed last week.

With the council’s approval, the city could free up the city to mobilize city employees working in other departments to the health department to help support the response, fast-track contracts with testing companies, and allow the city to quickly onboard needed nurses and other staff.

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The declaration could be revisited every 14 to 30 days, requiring council approval for the local emergency to continue.

A memo from Alison King, the city’s director of Health and Human Services, informed the City Council that the department expects at least another five active cases to come from the current outbreak as well as a projected 40 “latent” cases of TB, according to the preliminary investigation by the department.

King also said that another 400 to 500 people could be classified as contacts in the coming months, all of whom must be screened.

“TB outbreaks, if left unchecked, could spread to healthcare facility staff and patients, correctional facility staff and incarcerated people, homeless shelters, drug rehabilitation facilities, places of worship, and even to children and schools,” King said.

TB is caused by bacteria that can multiply in the lungs and survive for years before a patient develops an active case of the disease. Early symptoms can include a cough that lasts more than three weeks, fever, night sweats and loss of appetite.

The disease is spread by coughing, sneezing or even talking but requires longer periods of exposure for transmission to occur when compared to other infections like COVID-19. That makes transmission of the disease most likely to occur between people who live together or spend a lot of time together.

In the city’s announcement last week, officials said they believe the outbreak to be tied to a local hotel where some of the infected people were living, however, the name of the hotel has been withheld by the city to protect patient privacy.

Several hospitalized in tuberculosis outbreak; Long Beach declares health emergency

Alicia Robinson • May 2, 2024

An outbreak of tuberculosis that has exposed at least 170 people to the disease and caused 14 active cases prompted Long Beach’s city health officer to declare a public health emergency on Thursday. Nine of the infected people were hospitalized for some period of time and one person has died, according to a news release from the city. All tho…

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But health officials say some people with active cases have interacted with people in different parts of the city, fanning concerns that more people could become infected.

Nine of the 14 people who have been diagnosed have been hospitalized and one of them has died, according to the city.

In King’s memo, she said that TB hospitalizations are twice as expensive and four times longer than for other conditions and usually last for about 11 days. About 13% of those people die before treatment and one in six will die within five years of a diagnosis even with treatment, King said.

The cost to monitor and support those who become infected is anticipated to cost about $100,000 over the next few months, King said, but that figure could climb as new cases and exposures are confirmed.

Declaring a local emergency could allow the city to apply for outside funding to help pay for the response. The council is expected to vote on the declaration at its May 7 meeting.