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posted: 3/27/2012 4:04 PM

Kane County TB outbreak gets national attention

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Kane County's ongoing battle against a tuberculosis outbreak in the Aurora area has now become evidence in a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that homeless people are particularly susceptible to the illness. The report also cites the county's efforts, combined with the help of the CDC, as a model approach to dealing with such an outbreak of the potentially fatal illness.

The county first recognized the outbreak in January 2010. However, the initial TB case that may have fueled it came way back in April 2007 with a confirmed TB diagnosis of a 55-year-old man staying at Hesed House, an overnight homeless shelter in Aurora. In October 2009 and January 2010, two more TB cases popped up that were traceable to the original 2007 case. That signaled a potential outbreak.

In March 2010, three more cases were identified. And by July 2011, 25 confirmed cases were in the books. There hasn't been a confirmed new case since the fall, when the total stood at 28 infected people. However, county health officials said there are a couple suspected new cases pending right now. Every person with the infection had been a guests at the shelter so far, except for one patient who had shared alcohol use at a local tavern with a person who had stayed at the shelter and contracted the illness.

The CDC report shows, except for one child, people who contracted the illness ranged from 19 to 64 years of age. All confirmed active cases of TB require medical treatment and possible quarantine. The CDC report said the non-health care costs of treating the outbreak has hit $204,500 just for 24 of the patients. That included quarantining and feeding the sick.

County and state officials have worked with Hesed House to implement a new TB screening procedure for its guests. A new ventilation system at the shelter is expected to also help address any possible future problems.

The CDC report suggested a TB outbreak in the local homeless population is dangerous for all people.

"Of patients in this outbreak, 80 percent spent time at sites other than the shelter during their infectious periods, and attendance at certain bars had a nonstatistically significant association with being a case-patient, suggesting transmission was not limited to the shelter," the report states. "Therefore, outbreaks of TB among homeless populations can pose a risk to entire communities."

County health officials will present their own report on the TB outbreak next month.

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