The worst outbreak of tuberculosis in Florida in 20 years was kept hidden from the public for months.
In early February, Duval County Health Department officials were so worried about the surge in the number of cases that they asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to become involved. The health officials felt that if they informed the public, the public would avoid the homeless. “What you don’t want is for anyone to have another reason why people should turn their backs on the homeless,” said Charles Griggs, the public information officer for the Duval County Health Department. The health agency recommended that the A.G. Holley State Hospital in Lantana, where tough TB cases were treated, be closed six months ahead of scheduled.
On March 27, Governor Rick Scott, unaware that there was an outbreak, but aware of the health department’s recommendation, signed a bill that shrank the Department of Health and closed A.G. Holley.
But on April 5, the CDC warned Florida health officials that the Jacksonville outbreak was rapidly gaining ground: 13 deaths and 99 illnesses, including six children, had resulted already. Three thousand people in the past two years may have come into contact with TB contagious people at Jacksonville’s homeless shelters, an outpatient mental health clinic and area jails. But only 253 people had been found and evaluated for TB.
The public did not know about the outbreak until early June. Duval County Health Director Dr. Bob Harmon said, “There have been TB outbreaks where we do alert the public, such as a school or a college.”