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Skid Row TB epidemic is 'alarming,' but the community is well-versed in disease

By Hayley Fox
Published: Friday, February 22, 2013, at 04:21PM
Hayley Fox/blogdowntown

LAPD Senior Lead Officer Deon Joseph says that many people on Skid Row are easily exposed to diseases like tuberculosis through gathering in close quarters and sharing drug paraphernalia.

National health experts have been called into Downtown's Skid Row to help investigate a persistent tuberculosis (TB) outbreak that local health officials are calling the largest in a decade.

LAPD Senior Lead Officer Deon Joseph, who's worked in the Skid Row area for 14 years, said the outbreak is "alarming" but not surprising.

"We've had outbreaks of other diseases before because of the poor quality of life in the area so this is not a shock to me," said Joseph.

Joseph said he's seen nearly ever kind of ailment run through Skid Row -- including a Staph infection outbreak that effected police officers as well as residents in the area.

"So if officers are getting Staph, you can imagine how many people on Skid Row were getting Staph and actively have Staph because of that outbreak."

Joseph said disease spreads quickly in the area because of the high rate of exposure. Many people live or gather in close quarters -- especially during the winter; IV drug users share needles for intravenous drugs, while crack cocaine users pass around pipes.

Joseph said tuberculosis, HIV and hepatitis A, B and C were common among many of the people he arrested and brought to the station.

"Historically, Skid Row has been kind of a...for lack of a better term...a Petri dish for a whole lot of things," he said. "As long as I've known it and we just got to find a way to change that..."

The Los Angeles Times reports that more than 4,500 people may have been exposed to tuberculosis and that scientists have recently linked this recent outbreak to a TB strain unique to L.A., with a small number of isolated cases outside the area.

Salina Cranor of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention said in an email that the CDC hasn't dispatched staff to Downtown Los Angeles yet, but plan to do so in the next two weeks.

According to the CDC, this Skid Row outbreak is bucking national trends as statistics from 2011 show that TB had reached an all-time low in the United States with a total of 10,528 cases reported.

The L.A. Times reports that so far on Skid Row, almost 80 tuberculosis cases have been identified and 11 deaths have been recorded since 2007.

Joseph said the key now is to minimize the spread of TB and encourage Skid row residents to seek health care quickly.

"When I get back to work I have to go on a big campaign to educate people and pass out fliers, have them get tested and do my part..." said Joseph.

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