ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A tuberculosis outbreak among elderly Hmong residents of Minnesota is proving deadly and costly, in part due to antibiotic resistance.
State health officials say six of 17 people who contracted tuberculosis in Ramsey County have died, three of them as a direct result of the disease.
The outbreak has primarily affected elderly residents of the Hmong community. Ten cases have been linked to a senior center. Four other Hmong residents were also infected.
“We know we are already seeing more cases than we would have anticipated, and we far outnumber cases in other parts of the country,”’ said Anne Barry, director of the St. Paul-Ramsey Public Health Department.
Patients affected by the outbreak must undergo a costly medication regimen that has more side effects than two first-line antibiotics that have proven ineffective against this strain, the Star Tribune reported. The state has used nearly $225,000 in emergency funds to limit the disease’s spread and the county has funded additional public health workers.
Health officials said more than 350 people at other senior centers serving the Hmong community as well as family members of those infected need to be assessed or reassessed for signs of infection, but incomplete contact information has made it difficult for health officials to track all of them down.
While tuberculosis isn’t easy to catch, friends and family of those infected are more susceptible to the disease through repeated exposure. The disease is spread through the air when someone with infected lungs talks, sneezes or coughs.
Tuberculosis symptoms include a cough that lasts more than three weeks, weight loss, night sweats and fever. The disease typically affects the lungs but it can cause spinal pain, joint damage, meningitis and damage to the liver, kidneys and heart if left untreated.
Health officials encourage anyone with symptoms to see a doctor.