City health officials are continuing efforts to contain a tuberculosis outbreak reported earlier this month at a local single-occupancy hotel that killed one person and hospitalized nine others.

Dr. Anissa Davis, the city’s health officer, on Tuesday said health officials have identified another 10 individuals who are suspected to have the illness and will screen a total of 175 people who were suspected of being exposed to the bacteria, which requires rigorous treatment and can be fatal.

In the coming months, health officials expect to identify another 400 to 500 people who will need to be screened.

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Davis told the City Council she expects roughly 20% of the 175 individuals to test positive for the latent form of the virus, which will require about three months of medication and close monitoring.

A smaller number of those individuals will test positive for the active virus, which can be transmitted to others and requires about six months of medication.

But officials emphasized that the public at large is not at great risk, as tuberculosis, or TB, is more difficult to contract than a virus like COVID-19.

“The majority of people we test will be negative,” Davis said.

Dr. Anissa Davis, health Officer for the city of Long Beach, talks during a media conference along with Long Beach government and health officials about the COVID-19 virus In Long Beach on Thursday, Feb.27, 2020. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

TB is a bacterial infection that typically affects the lungs. It is spread through the air when an individual with active TB coughs, sneezes or spits.

Most cases of TB in the United States are found among the unhoused population, those with substance use disorders and other complicating health factors, which was the case in the Long Beach outbreak reported on May 2.

Homeless individuals are 30% more likely to die from TB than those who are housed, Davis said.

Because these individuals also don’t have access to regular health care, the city’s Health Department will need to provide a range of testing, including blood tests and x-rays, medication for many months, as well as food, housing and case management.

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously ratified Davis’ declaration of a health emergency, which will allow the city to make quicker decisions and let the department seek help and funding from the county, state and federal government.

In a staff report to the City Council, Davis said the declaration will also allow for more expeditious hiring, as the city’s TB clinic is currently short 1.5 full-time equivalent nursing positions, one full-time clinician and one full-time medical assistant.

The outbreak is expected to cost the city at least $100,000 just for testing, support and contact tracing — but that cost will vary depending on how many cases are detected.

City officials have not disclosed the name of the motel where the outbreak occurred due to privacy concerns, but City Manager Tom Modica told the council that emergency personnel, including paramedics, will receive this information as needed in order to protect themselves from exposure.

Davis said that although the risk to the general population is low, it is critical to contain the outbreak so that it doesn’t spread to others including health care staff, places of worship, correctional facilities and educational staff.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the 175 people suspected of being exposed to tuberculosis is the total number, including those initially believed to be exposed. 

Melissa Evans is the Chief Executive Officer of the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal. Reach her at [email protected], @melissaevansLBP or 562-512-6354.