Health Officials Confirm Cases of Tuberculosis in Chicago Migrant Shelters

By: Alex Trent | Published: Apr 04, 2024

On Wednesday, Chicago Health Officials confirmed that a ‘small number’ of tuberculosis (TB) cases have emerged in migrant shelters in the city of Chicago.

These cases were reported by the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) to be located in a “few different shelters” but would not say exactly how many cases there are, nor which shelters have seen confirmed cases.


Tuberculosis is an infectious bacteria that targets the lungs and can be spread through the air and by an infected person’s cough.

A person holds a culture of bacteria contained in four separate sections.

Source: CDC/Unsplash

“These outbreaks happen in close quarters, people who are living close to one another,” said Anriuddha Hazara, an associate professor of medicine, Infectious Diseases and Global Health at the University of Chicago.


How its Spread

TB is spread by droplets and usually when someone is actively coughing them up.

An indoor shot of a woman sitting on a blue sofa, dressed in a white and yellow striped shirt with her hair in a ponytail, coughing into her hand. She is wearing glasses and has a tattoo on her arm

Source: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

“It can only be spread by someone with active tuberculosis disease. Someone who is actively coughing up these droplets –  that is how it gets spread,” said Dr. Gary Reschak, a pediatrician at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital.

Not All Infections Are Active

Some people who contract TB may not develop the symptoms of an active infection.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria seen in a computer generated image.

Source: CDC/Unsplash

“Not everyone who acquires TB will develop an active infection. A percentage or folks will actually develop what we call a latent infection. But that latent TB can then reactivate to become active TB at some point in the future,” said Hazra. “They can still receive anti-TB therapy to make sure that latent infection is fully eradicated.”

No Reason for Panic

Dr. Harazara says there is no cause for concern for the outbreak to spread among the general populace. TB requires hours of prolonged contact with an infected individual to be transmitted.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis closeup which causes Tuberculosis.

Source: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

“The people who are most at risk of tuberculosis are the other migrants living in that shelter,” said Hazra.

Fatal Consequences

The CDC says that TB is “preventable and treatable in most cases” and “it can usually be cured by available anti-TB drugs.”

A hospital lobby seen in a blue, dim light, with a person behind a desk.

Source: Brandon Holmes/Unsplash

However, if untreated, TB can be fatal, which presents a problem in a migrant population. These migrants may be less likely to come forward to report symptoms amidst a current wave of migrant evictions happening in the city.


Other Outbreaks

This is not the first reported disease outbreak that is suspected to have occurred within Chicago migrant shelters.

A medical professional wears a mask while holding a vaccine needle.

Source: Kristine Wook/Unsplash

Measles cases in the city have surpassed 50 this year, and Fox recently reported that half of the reported measles cases in the US were from Chicago. The majority of measles cases in the city were reported to have been transmitted in the Pilsen migrant shelter.


Lack of Vaccinations

CDPH Commissioner Olusimbo Ige contends that new arrivals to Chicago aren’t bringing measles but rather they are more susceptible to its spread because of a lack of vaccinations.

A person prepares a vial of for an injection.

Source: Mufid Mafnun/Unsplash

“New arrivals didn’t bring measles to Chicago, it was circulating here and they are vulnerable to it because many come from countries where they didn’t receive the vaccinations we in the United States do, and they’re living in congregate settings where it can spread more easily,” Ige said.


Containing the Spread

The measles outbreak is also being treated seriously by the CDPH. The city’s health organization is rushing to vaccinate migrants, having successfully vaccinated more than 5,000 new arrivals since the first measles case was reported.

A healthcare worker wearing a surgical hat and facemask.

Source: SJ Objio/Unsplash

We’re now doing the hard work to contain that spread, and I want to thank the CDPH staff and our many partners, in particular Prism and Cimpar, who are making this happen,” Ige said.


Pilsen Events

A measles outbreak occurred at the Pilsen shelter, which is home to 1,334 migrants. A 5-year-old child recently fell ill and died, with officials saying the death was attributed to sepsis, COVID-10, adenovirus, and rhinovirus/enterovirus.

Source: Adam Jones/Wikimedia

Now, at least five people have been transported from Pilsen, the city’s largest migrant center, to hospitals in the city to be treated for TB, according to a migrant reportedly speaking to Borderless Magazine.


Warned for Months

In an X post, Democrat Alderman/Committeeman Raymond Lopez slammed Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson’s failure to prevent this. Lopez saw outbreaks of disease among migrants as a preventable problem that the city had dragged its feet on.

The sun shines like a beacon behind the skyline of Chicago.

Source: Max Bender/Unsplash

Lopez wrote “I have warned Chicago for months about what was already here. Performative politics & hurt feelings kept City Hall from avoiding the obvious looming disaster.”


Alarmists Called Racist

Lopez continued his criticism of Johnson and others who he says tried labeling those who were raising alarms as bigots.

A street in the city of Chicago.

source: Ken Lund/Wikimedia

“Anyone who demanded action to protect our residents was called racist, xenophobic, and anti-immigrant by fringe politicians. And now here we are: measles, now tuberculosis both “confirmed” in Chicago. Shame on every mouthpiece that worked so hard to keep this secret,” Lopez wrote.