JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A report by the Centers for Disease Control is now at the center of an alleged state government cover-up. The CDC says Duval County has the largest tuberculosis outbreak in the country that they’ve investigated in the last 20 years.
Action News went to the Duval County Health Department to find out why the area has seen such a spike. TB is highly contagious and affects your respiratory system.
“I think because the homeless are hard to reach and they’re hard to treat when they do develop TB,” said Duval County Health Director Dr. Bob Harmon.
In the past eight years, TB has been linked to a total of 99 cases and 13 deaths locally. Most of the cases have been found among Jacksonville’s homeless or incarcerated population.
These numbers were released in the CDC report April 5. The AG Holley State Hospital, the only tuberculosis hospital in Florida, closed three months later prompting an investigation by a South Florida newspaper that suggests there was a cover-up of the CDC’s findings.
Action News reached out to Governor Rick Scott’s press office who forwarded us this:
Below is a statement from Florida Department of Health's Deputy Secretary for Health, Steven Harris, M.D.
"The inaccuracies cited in several media reports are outrageous. As soon as the Department of Health (DOH) saw a slight spike in the FL0046 Tuberculosis strain, we immediately reached out to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and engaged stakeholders in the community.
As soon as the CDC site visit was completed, we re-formed The Jacksonville Community Tuberculosis Coalition which enlisted several community partners including the City of Jacksonville, the Mayor’s office, local officials, local hospitals, the Sheriff’s office and homeless shelters. The very purpose of the coalition is to ensure the homeless population is protected, the cluster is contained and the locally affected community is informed of the isolated strain within an isolated population.
Contacting these local government officials, community organizations and hospitals is a clear sign that these actions were conducted with the utmost level of transparency.
After these inaccurate reports, it is important for the public to know, the number of TB cases in Florida has been trending downward for several years. The increase in this particular strain of non-drug resistant TB has affected approximately 99 people over the past eight years."
Harmon also denied all of the allegations regarding the report and the closure of the hospital.
“I don't think those two issues are linked. I support the closure of the AG Holley hospital,” he said.
Harmon currently sits on the committee that oversees the hospital’s closure. He says even though new TB cases are still arising, the county has a handle on it. He believes Jacksonville residents shouldn’t be alarmed, just knowledgeable.
"It's coming under control gradually, but we can't let our guard down because it's still out there,” Harmon said.
The CDC believes around 3,000 people who may have been exposed to tuberculosis in Jacksonville in the past two years still need to be evaluated.
A TB coalition has been formed locally to work on outreach and additional screenings among those at risk.