Tuberculosis plagues Anchorage homeless

Posted: Monday, April 16, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Tuberculosis, a highly contagious disease, has been spreading fast among homeless people in Anchorage for more than a year with no signs of stopping, according to city health officials.

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Alaska's tuberculosis rate was the highest of all states for the second year in a row. The 26 cases among the homeless in Anchorage last year made up more than a third of all cases statewide.

For the large part of a decade, health workers found just a few Anchorage homeless people with active tuberculosis annually and in 2004 there were no cases found among homeless residents.

But in 2005, two sick homeless people were discovered and one of them is tied to many cases in the 2006 outbreak. Half a dozen of his children, grandchildren and other close associates got TB, said Bruce Chandler, a doctor and city health officer.

The bacteria from the man matched that of 15 other Anchorage homeless cases, said Chandler.

"We've been dealing with this nightmare for over a year," Chandler said.

Throughout the year, city and state health workers go to Anchorage soup kitchens and shelters and take samples of phlegm to test for TB.

T.J. Hernandez, a city family service counselor, goes out searching at all hours of the day and night to camps and shelters. He carries TB pills and water with him.

The disease can spread tiny infectious droplets through the air when afflicted persons talk, sneeze, or even sing, said Chandler. Some droplets can stay aloft for hours.

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