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‘Killer’ disease spreading at illegal immigrant shelters

Medical stethoscope. (Dreamstime/TNS)
April 04, 2024

Chicago’s Department of Public Health announced Wednesday that a “small number” of tuberculosis cases have been documented at illegal immigrant shelters.

Fox 32 Chicago reported that while the Chicago Department of Public Health did not reveal the number of confirmed tuberculosis cases or which illegal immigrant shelters were affected by the outbreak, health officials confirmed that a “small number” of tuberculosis cases had been reported at “a few different shelters” as of Wednesday. Health officials also explained that medical teams were increasing contact tracing efforts.

“These outbreaks happen in close quarters, people who are living close to one another,” Dr. Aniruddha Hazra, a professor at the University of Chicago, told Fox 32 Chicago. He claimed that the public currently does not need to panic over the reports of tuberculosis and explained that the people “most at risk” of infection are the other illegal immigrants in the city shelters.

Fox 32 Chicago reported that the tuberculosis outbreak follows the recent outbreak of over 55 cases of measles in the city. However, while measles can be prevented through vaccines, Hazra said there is currently “no effective vaccine against tuberculosis.” The World Health Organization also describes tuberculosis as “the world’s top infectious killer.”

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Dr. Gary Reschak, a pediatrician from Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital, told Fox 32 Chicago that tuberculosis, which is a bacterial disease that typically affects a person’s lungs, can “only be spread by someone with active tuberculosis disease.” Reschak said the disease spreads by infected individuals coughing up “droplets.”

“The important thing is trying to figure out who there has the active disease and properly treating them,” Reschak said.

Fox 32 Chicago noted that health experts have indicated tuberculosis treatment could require individuals to be placed on multiple antibiotics for several months.

In a statement to the outlet, a Chicago Department of Public Health spokesperson said the department is working to contain the spread of the tuberculosis cases.

“CDPH is aware of a small number of cases of TB among new arrivals in a few different shelters over the course of the response,” the spokesperson said. “It is important to note that an estimated 10-20% of residents of Central and South America have latent TB infection, which is asymptomatic and not transmissible to others, but does result in a positive TB test. For those who do have active cases of TB disease, CDPH assigns a nurse case manager to each individual and performs a contact tracing investigation.”

The spokesperson told Fox 32 Chicago that tuberculosis is “not particularly infectious” and usually is spread when people have “prolonged close contact” with infected individuals for multiple hours.