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17 Infected, 6 Dead In Minnesota Tuberculosis Outbreak

17 Infected, 6 Dead In Minnesota Tuberculosis Outbreak Promo Image

An outbreak of drug-resistant tuberculosis in Ramsey County, Minnesota, has infected 17 people and killed six as of Nov. 6. 

The outbreak is the largest in the country.

"We've put a lot of resources into responding to this situation," Kris Ehresmann, director for Infectious Disease at the Minnesota Department of Health told KMSP. 

The outbreak has largely impacted members of Ramsey County's large Hmong community. Fourteen of the infected are elderly Hmong. Ehresmann believes 10 of those people were infected at the same senior center. 

"We have a large Hmong community in Minnesota, so I think it's really important that they're aware of the situation and attentive and monitoring what's going on with elders," Ehresmann said. 

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"But definitely the general public needs to know it's not a concern," Ehresmann said, according ot Twin Cities Pioneer Press. "I would hate for anybody to think 'I'm not going to talk to my Hmong colleague or my Hmong friend' because of this."

Although Minnesota has about 168 cases of tuberculosis each year, this outbreak's resistance to antibiotics makes it difficult to treat. 

"When you have a multi-drug resistant disease what that means is the organism that's causing the TB is now resistant to at least two of the usual drugs that are used, so it's not that you can't treat it, but it's going to take second-line drugs," Ehresmann said. 

The cost of treating drug-resistant tuberculosis is more than seven times the cost of regular tuberculosis treatment, according to KMSP. Regular treatment costs $17,000. Drug-resistant treatment costs $134,000. 

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Drug-resistant bacteria infects at least 2 million people in the U.S. every year according to the CDC. Of those, at least 23,000 die as a direct result. 

One infected patient had been sick with tuberculosis for five years before the illness was identified, according to the Daily Mail. 

Anne Barry, director of St. Paul-Ramsey County Public Health told the Pioneer Press that local health officials are working directly with the community. 

"In our partnership with the Minnesota Department of Health, we're really the front line," she said. "We're working directly with the community and with people of the community in the health department, so we have health educations, community health workers, nurses who are in and of the Hmong community, and that's an essential part of the work that's being done here. We're often not trusted by people of the community, so having relationships has been essential."

The state has had 160 cases of TB so far this year, and usually has an average of 168 for an entire year.

Tuberculosis spreads slowly and requires repeated contact with an infected person to be transmitted, but Minnesota officials are still trying to find everyone who might have been infected by this one patient. 

Tuberculosis can be spread via coughing, sneezing, speaking or singing, according to the CDC. Symptoms include coughing, chest pain, coughing up blood, weakness, fatigue, weight loss, chills and fever.

Sources: KMSP, Daily Mail, Twin Cities Pioneer Press, CDC (2) / Featured Image: NIAID/Flickr / Embedded Images: KMSP, CDC

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