Arrest of man with TB raises questions, concern

Arrest of man with TB raises questions, concern »Play Video
This undated photo released by the San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office shows Eduardo Rosas Cruz. On Thursday, July 24, 2014, prosecutors in California said they have obtained an arrest warrant for the 25-year-old diagnosed with tuberculosis who is contagious and has refused treatment, putting those around him at risk.
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - The local arrest of a man suspected of refusing treatment for tuberculosis raises concern about how the disease is spread and what precautions are being taken.

TB was the leading cause of death in the U.S. at one time, and while the number of cases is now very low, it's clearly not completely gone.

"It's not a disease you want, but it's a disease that's clearly manageable with modern medication and care," Dr. Royce Johnson told Eyewitness News on Tuesday. He's an infectious disease specialist at Kern Medical Center, and we sat in an older wing of the hospital which used to be the TB ward.

On Monday night, Eduardo Rosas Cruz, 25, was picked up in Lamont after a traffic stop. Sheriff officers quickly realized he was wanted on a warrant from San Joaquin County. Authorities there say Rosas Cruz was diagnosed with TB in March, and didn't stay there to get treatment.

Under the law, someone determined to have an active case of tuberculosis can be detained in a health facility. They can't be forced to get treatment, but the goal is to isolate them from others who could get infected.

Kern County sheriff officials tell Eyewitness News Rosas Cruz was taken to KMC, but no health officials can confirm that. They also can't discuss his case specifically in any way.

Dr. Johnson says he now has about eight TB patients, and KMC has a clinic that sees several patients a week to follow their cases.

"We used to have 10 to 12 patients in the hospital with TB at any given time," he says. "Right now, the average number is somewhere between 1 and 2."

San Joaquin County officials have said Rosas Cruz comes from an area of Mexico known for a drug-resistant strain of TB. They also say he's a transient.

At the Mission at Kern County, director Carlos Baldovinos says their facility has always been on the look-out for TB.

"Within 5 to 7 days, they have to obtain a TB test," Baldovinos says. He explains that is one of the items on a check-list when a homeless person comes to the shelter. And, Baldovinos says no cases of TB have ever turned up at the Mission.

Dr. Johnson says all healthcare workers and all teachers must get yearly TB tests. It's a skin test.

And, a Kern County public health spokeswoman tells Eyewitness News some companies ask workers to get TB tests, and normally prisons also do. She adds some studies out now say that unless exposure is suspected, it's not necessary.

The man who was arrested got diagnosed with TB after turning up at a Stockton area hospital with a severe cough, according to reports. The disease can be spread if an infected person coughs on another. But, Dr. Johnson says that's only with close contact.

"Most people that become infected, it's significant contact for a protracted period in indoor space," Dr. Johnson explains, adding that's usually household contacts. He says TB is virtually not communicable outdoors.

But, Dr. Johnson says if anyone has had contact with a TB patient, they should get tested. He says there is good therapy for prevention of the disease. And, he has a rule about coughs.

"Anybody that has a cough that lasts longer than 2 weeks should see a healthcare provider and have a chest x-ray," he says. Dr. Johnson says that cough could be a symptom of TB, or Valley Fever, or maybe nothing serious -- but it should be checked out.

As for the man from Stockton, local health officials will not say how long he was in Kern County, or where, or if he was in contact with others.

At the Mission, Baldovinos says the response to this case shows why there are processes in place to protect the public from contagious diseases like TB.

"If there's no systems in place like this throughout the state, the country," Baldovinos says, "Then it becomes a problem."

Dr. Johnson agrees it's vital to watch for, and respond to cases of tuberculosis.

"It's still here," Dr. Johnson says. "The numbers are less than half of what they were 20 years ago, but it's not gone and not forgotten."