Public health officials in Los Angeles reported on Thursday that cases of tuberculosis are up by 7 percent in the city.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the rise in cases occurred mainly among the city’s homeless population.
In a letter to the County Board of Supervisors, Dr. Jonathan Fielding — director of the L.A. County Department of Health — wrote that the city is currently fighting the largest TB outbreak in a decade.
Los Angeles saw 666 cases of TB in 2013, up 7 percent from the 625 cases reported in 2012. In 2012, 35 of the cases were among homeless people, but in 2013, that number rose to 65 cases.
Tuberculosis is a bacterial disease that attacks the lungs, but which left untreated can attack other organs, including the brain, spinal cord and kidneys. Prior to the advent of antibiotic medicines, the disease was a fatal scourge that killed millions around the world each year.
Symptoms of tuberculosis include coughing and blood-tinged sputum, fever, night sweats and rapid weight loss.
The potentially fatal disease spreads through contact with the saliva or sputum of an infected person, which is flung out in all directions when a patient coughs or sneezes. Homeless people in particular are at risk because they often sleep and eat in crowded, substandard conditions.
Additionally, the homeless in particular have other health problems that make them more susceptible to developing active tubercular disease, including struggles with mental health issues, nutritional challenges and frequent moves from place to place.
Fielding noted that 79 percent of the cases of active TB in Los Angeles were foreign-born individuals who traveled or immigrated to the U.S. without realizing that they were sick.
Thursday’s report did not include information on new deaths from TB, but the Times noted in February that 11 people have died since the outbreak began in 2007.
[image of homeless man on sidewalk via Shutterstock.com]