LOS ANGELES (AP) – A Santa Barbara man with a contagious case of drug-resistant tuberculosis was wanted on an arrest warrant Friday so he can complete treatment, health officials said.
Agustin Zeferino, 24, discontinued treatment for the disease two weeks ago, Santa Barbara County Health Department officials said. Zeferino poses a serious health risk to anyone who comes in contact with him, the department said.
"We do everything we can to enable and give patients incentives to be compliant with receiving treatments," said Charity Thoman, the tuberculosis controller for Santa Barbara County. "This is the most dangerous form of tuberculosis and it can be life-threatening if it goes untreated."
Drug-resistant tuberculosis is a highly contagious and rare form of the disease that can be spread by coughing or sneezing.
It is the second time in the past month that California health officials issued a warrant for a TB patient refusing treatment, though the move is extremely rare. Eduardo Rosas Cruz, 25, was arrested last month in Fresno after refusing treatment.
Thoman said patients will sometimes go missing for a short period of time, but can usually be found before the health department takes legal action. If a patient fails to receive treatment for an extended period of time, health officials work with the district attorney's office to decide whether to pursue criminal charges.
Drug-resistant tuberculosis requires 18-24 months of treatment, but is curable, Thoman said. By law, health officials can't force a patient to be treated for tuberculosis, but officials can use the courts to isolate the patient from the public. That is when officials offer treatment.