The Orange County Board of Supervisors’ approval of a plan to convert six cells in the county jail system into medical isolation units for inmates with tuberculosis was sensible and reflected the concern caused by the disturbing rise in the disease.

Health officials said that in 1990 there were 258 new cases of tuberculosis reported in Orange County; last year there were 440 new cases.

The dramatic increase prompted the supervisors earlier this year to approve spending an extra $1.5 million to fight tuberculosis, over the $5 million previously approved.

That money will help pay for more health workers for schools, clinics and jails. Tuberculosis is a bacterial disease that is communicated through airborne droplets from coughing or sneezing. It is easily spread in close quarters such as classrooms and jails, which is why preventive measures are so necessary.


Orange County officials plan to modify four cells in the Intake/Release Center and two in the Women’s Jail in Santa Ana so that ventilation systems discharge contaminated air directly outside, rendering the bacteria harmless.

Those are good steps that should allow jail officials to avoid the security problems and cost of transporting inmates to hospitals. Isolating the ill more quickly also can help stop the spread of the disease.

The outbreaks of tuberculosis at La Quinta High School in Westminster in the last two years demonstrated the havoc the disease can cause if it is not treated promptly.