California Tuberculosis Outbreak Prompts Health Emergency in Hotel Housing Homeless

By: Alex Trent | Published: May 06, 2024

Health officials in Long Beach, California have declared a health emergency after a tuberculosis outbreak has infected at least 14 people, with 1 confirmed death and at least 9 have been hospitalized.

The outbreak is confirmed by officials to have originated in a hotel where homeless people are being sheltered. However, they would not disclose the location due to health regulations and patient privacy concerns.

Health Emergency

Long Beach Health Officer Dr. Annisa Davis declared a public health emergency on Thursday after more information was found about the tuberculosis outbreak.

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A man wearing glasses and a beige blanket coughs into his hand

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“Today, May 2, 2024, City Health Officer Dr. Anissa Davis declared a local public health emergency to strengthen the City’s preparedness and ability to respond to a localized tuberculosis (TB) outbreak. This declaration will be considered for ratification by the Long Beach City Council on Tuesday, May 7,” said the city government in a statement.

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Tuberculosis Outbreak

According to the city’s statement, individuals were identified in a Long Beach Hotel to have contracted tuberculosis due to their close proximity.

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Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria seen in a computer generated image.

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“Several individuals associated with a single room occupancy (SRO) hotel in Long Beach have recently been identified with TB disease. As of April 29, 14 cases of TB disease have been associated with this outbreak; nine people have been hospitalized at some point in their illness; and one person has died,” said the statement.

Protecting Privacy

While some residents may want to know the area where the outbreak occurred, the city felt that publishing the location was not appropriate.

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“To protect patient privacy and comply with HIPAA regulations, the name of the hotel will not be released. The facility is a private hotel not operated by or contracted with the City of Long Beach,” the Long Beach government statement said.

What is Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial disease that attacks the lungs through infection. It is a particularly difficult disease to treat if a person is unable to gain access to the proper antibiotics.

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An x-ray showing someone who has Pulmonary tuberculosis.

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The disease is spread through air droplets and is particularly dangerous for those with compromised immune systems.

Low Public Risk

The Long Beach government’s statement was insistent that the threat to the general public was not very high because it had been successfully isolated.

Two individuals, a man and a woman, are greeting each other by touching elbows in an indoor setting. Both are wearing protective face masks and casual business attire

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“The outbreak is currently isolated to a distinct population and the risk to the general public is low,” the statement said

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High-Risk Population

This outbreak hits people living with homelessness harder than people in the general population because of the increased risk factors they are associated with.

A homeless camp can be seen on the side of the street. There is a large blue tarp and various personal belongings messily left on the sidewalk

Source: Wikimedia Commons

“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,” said the City of Long Beach.

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Catching Tuberculosis

People often catch TB from being in close contact with someone who is infected and who has symptoms like a bad cough.

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“You can catch tuberculosis if someone is coughing or sneezing or in close contact, the bacteria from those particles gets into the air and anybody nearby will breathe that in — and that’s how they pick it up and that’s how they catch it,” said Dr. Janette Nesheiwa, a double board-certified doctor based in New York.

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Tuberculosis Spreading

To spread from one person to another, a person must have an active TB infection and spread it through activities like coughing, sneezing, or singing.

A man in a dark t-shirt appears distressed, pressing his hands against his temples, suggesting a severe headache or frustration. He is wearing a camouflage pattern face mask, which covers his nose and mouth

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Thankfully TB is not as contagious as other common air-borne diseases like the common cold, the flu, or COVID-19.

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Highest in a Decade

This latest outbreak in California comes off the heels of a record year for TB. The CDC reported that 2023 had the highest number of cases in the US in a decade, beating out 2022 with a 16% increase.

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Cases of TB have increased by 8% since 2019 before the COVID pandemic started.

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Cases in California

Health experts assert that California in particular is facing its own problem with rising cases. Experts speculate that one reason for the TB infection increase is that the bacteria that causes it, Mycobacterium Tuberculosis, can go undetected for years without symptoms.

Aerial view of Los Angeles cityscape showing dense urban development, high-rise buildings downtown, sprawling neighborhoods, and distant mountains, under clear skies

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This means that Californians who live in increasingly crowded cities with spiking homeless populations will be more prone to contracting it from close contact and not knowing when or where they got it from.

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Getting Tested

If someone thinks they may have been exposed to TB, experts suggest that getting tested is an important step to consider.

A woman coughing into her hand while she sits on a couch.

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“The goal is for people to understand their risks so that they can get tested and treated and cured before they get sick,” said Susannah Graves, director of Tuberculosis Prevention and Control at the San Francisco Department of Health.

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