Minnesota county scrambles to control deadly tuberculosis outbreak

A Minnesota county is grappling with the largest outbreak of tuberculosis in the country, as health officials count 17 confirmed cases including six fatalities. The Minnesota Department of Health has linked three of the six deaths in Ramsey County directly to the disease.

“We’ve put a lot of resources into responding to this situation,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s director for infectious disease, told Fox 9.

The majority of cases have involved people in the elderly Hmong community, primarily those who shared activities at a senior center.

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“We have a large Hmong community in Minnesota, so I think it’s really important that they’re aware of the situation and attentive and monitoring what’s going on with elders,” Ehresmann told Fox 9.

The illness, which can spread when an infected person talks, sneezes, coughs or sings, can be treated with antibiotics, but the current outbreak involves a multi-drug resistant strain. Ehresmann said the medication required to treat it can be costly and produce harsher side effects for patients.

“When you have multi-drug resistant disease what that means is the organism that’s causing the TB is now resistant to at least two of the usual drugs that are used, so it’s not that you can’t treat it, but it’s going to take a second-line of drugs,” Ehresmann said.

The state has tallied 160 cases of tuberculosis so far this year, with last year’s total counted at 168.