Officials in Los Angeles, Calif. have enlisted the help of federal authorities to contain the outbreak of a tuberculosis strain unique to the area.
While overall infection rates for the disease have gone down in recent years, Los Angeles' homeless population have experienced a spike in numbers. Since 2007, eleven people have died from tuberculosis and 80 cases have been identified, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Local public health officials have enlisted the help of scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as homeless shelters, to help identify 4,650 people who may have been exposed to the disease so they can be tested and treated. If the disease isn't brought to heel, officials worry that the strain could spread to other parts of the city.
In the video above, KTLA reporter Lynette Romero notes, "LA's homeless, primarily during the winter months, are in crowded shelters or huddled together on the streets of LA, and that's where tuberculosis is easily spread."
If left untreated, tuberculosis can be deadly. The disease, a contagious bacterial infection, can spread when an infected person "coughs, sneezes, laughs, speaks, or sings," notes the LA County Department of Public Health. Uninfected people who inhale airborne particles released in the air can catch the disease, but the disease does not spread through physical contact.
Tuberculosis also has two different stages of infection. The "latent" phase, in which tuberculosis germs are present in a body but aren't activated, means that someone could test positive for the disease despite not showing any symptoms. People with a "latent" infection can't spread the disease.
The "active" phase, which could be triggered when someone infected by tuberculosis has a weakened immune system, presents symptoms like coughing, sweating, fatigue and weight loss. People who have an "active" tuberculosis infection can spread the disease to other people.
Skid Row is neighborhood in downtown Los Angeles that contains the city's highest concentration of homeless people. An estimated 4,000 people call the streets of Skid Row home, while an estimated 51,000 people are homeless in Los Angeles county.