Associated Press (07.26.03) - Tuesday, July 29, 2003
A tuberculosis outbreak among the homeless population in
Maine's largest city has local health officials seeking help
from the federal government to deal with the problem. Within
the last year, six active cases of TB have emerged, four of
them since March.
But Nate Nickerson, who heads Portland's public health
division, said getting cured - with drug regimens often
lasting at least six months - is not a high priority for some
homeless in the city. Health officials have asked Portland's
public safety officers and homeless service providers to help
locate patients as well as those who may have been exposed and
need to undergo TB testing.
Jodi Fickett, a public health nurse, has had to leave her
house in the middle of the night to administer medication to a
hard-to-find patient who showed up at a shelter. Police have
even had to detain a person on the street until she arrived
with a vial of drugs. "You want to keep everybody safe, but
it's tiring. You're on-call 24-7," said Fickett.
Portland officials report that all six men who developed
active TB cases had compromised immune systems due to
alcoholism or other diseases. All are getting drug therapy, or
have since completed it.
Though TB is on the decline in the United States, some groups
- including immigrants from countries where TB is endemic,
inmates in correctional facilities, and the homeless - remain
at high risk. In Maine, there are about two dozen TB cases a
year. Portland officials estimate there to be more than 302
homeless in the city at any given time and about 3,000 over
the course of the year.
City officials have requested federal assistance and money to
deal with the TB outbreak. The state has helped out, with its
health care workers taking on more routine cases of other
illnesses so Portland's four-person epidemiological team can
focus on stopping the spread of TB.