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Number of tuberculosis cases in L.A. County rose slightly last year

Number of tuberculosis cases in L.A. County rose slightly last year
Los Angeles County public health director Jonathan Fielding, shown in September, attributed the increase in tuberculosis cases reported in 2013 partly to "intensified outreach" to the homeless population. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

After years of declining tuberculosis rates, Los Angeles County saw an uptick in cases last year, health officials said Tuesday.

County public health director Jonathan Fielding said the number of tuberculosis cases reported annually had declined by 60% over the previous 22 years. But in 2013, the number rose slightly. There were 664 cases reported in 2013, a 7% increase from the year before.

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He attributed the increase partly to "intensified outreach" to identify cases in the homeless population and said he didn't anticipate a continued trend of increasing cases that could tax the resources of the county hospital system.

The report followed a story by the Los Angeles Daily News about treatment of drug-resistant tuberculosis cases at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center.

Fielding said drug-resistant cases -- which require much more expensive and lengthy treatment than regular tuberculosis cases -- make up about 1.1% of all cases in the county, with 10 multidrug-resistant cases and one extremely drug resistant case under treatment now.

Most of those cases come from outside the country, primarily from Asia, Fielding said.

The cost to treat these cases ranges from $134,000 to $430,000, compared with $17,000 for a typical tuberculosis case, and may require as much as two years of treatment and two years of follow-up care.

Olive View's tuberculosis unit has the capacity to treat 10 such patients at a time, and frequently has patients waiting to transfer there from other hospitals. But health officials said there was not a shortage of tuberculosis beds countywide.

"Routine tuberculosis cases can be treated in many different hospitals quite effectively," Fielding said. "It's the ones that have special problems ... and are resistant to many of the first- and second-line drugs that need the specialists that are only available at Olive View."

Follow Abby Sewell on Twitter at @sewella for more county news.

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