Tuberculosis patient found, arrested in Kern County

Tuberculosis patient found, arrested in Kern County »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.
FRESNO, Calif. — A California man who was charged after refusing treatment for his tuberculosis was found and arrested in Kern County.

Eduardo Rosas Cruz, 25, was arrested Monday night at about 8 in Lamont after a traffic stop, according to Kern County Sheriff's spokesman Ray Pruitt. He said Rosas Cruz was taken to Kern Medical Center.

Authorities last week obtained an arrest warrant for Rosas Cruz, saying he was diagnosed with tuberculosis in March after going to San Joaquin General Hospital's emergency room with a severe cough.

Medical staff at the hospital told him to stay in a Stockton motel room, where a health worker would deliver his medication and watch him take it. But officials say he left.

From the Kern County Public Health Department, Denise Smith said she can not discuss this specific case, but TB cases can be a big concern.

"Tuberculosis can be a very contagious disease," Smith said. "Particularly, if the disease is found in the lungs."

She said the contagious person can cough, and that spreads the bacteria in the air. TB can be deadly.

Rosas Cruz is a transient and comes from an area of Mexico known for a drug-resistant strain of TB, authorities said.

San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Stephen Taylor said the goal of prosecuting a tuberculosis patient through the criminal courts is not to punish him, but to protect the public. He said Rosas Cruz refused to cooperate with officials.

"When somebody has behaved like this, it's time to go in-patient," Taylor said.

In court papers filed in support of the warrant, public health officials said Rosas Cruz resisted treatment from the start. He also used crack cocaine and methamphetamine, officials said, adding that he could develop the drug-resistant strain if he hasn't already.

By law, health officials can't force a patient to be treated for tuberculosis, but officials can use the courts to isolate him from the public. That is when officials offer treatment.

"We've had a couple cases over the years where we've got to law enforcement for assistance," Kern County's Denise Smith said. But, she said it's "pretty rare."

She said under the health codes, the county public health officer has the authority to take action to protect the public.

"They can take whatever measures are necessary to prevent the spread of the disease in their jurisdiction," Smith explained. "And, so, it doesn't happen very often, but sometimes we do have to take more stringent steps to protect the public."

Due to patient privacy rules, Smith could not say what is happening with Rosas Cruz now in Kern County.

Smith said treatment for TB can take from six months to two years, and if a patient stops treatment too soon, that can make them more prone to drug-resistant strains of the disease.

Smith said she did not know how long Rosas Cruz may have been in Kern County, or if he came in contact with anyone. She said those in close contact for a period of time are at risk of being exposed to a TB case.

Smith said tests can show in a day or two if a patient is positive and contagious for the disease.

Sheriff's spokesman Pruitt told Eyewitness News the deputies who arrested Rosas Cruz put a mask on him, and the officers also put on masks and gloves when they took him into custody.

Reportedly, Rosas Cruz must be medically cleared, before he can be returned to San Joaquin County authorities.

In the meantime, he's in Kern County.

"At this point, there isn't any information for us to be concerned that people in our county have reason to be concerned about exposure to an infectious process for tuberculosis," Smith said. "We do everything we can to make sure that we're protecting the public from that happening."

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KBAK/KBFX TV Eyewitness News reporter Carol Ferguson reported from Bakersfield, Calif.