ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - An outbreak of tuberculosis in Ramsey County is now the largest in the country with 17 people contracting the disease, according to Minnesota Department of Health officials. Six people have died with three dying as a direct result from the disease.
“We've put a lot of resources into responding to this situation,” said Kris Ehresmann, Director for Infectious Disease, MN Dept. of Health.
Ehresmann says the outbreak has mostly affected people in the elderly Hmong community. Of those impacted, 14 people are from within the Hmong community. Ehresmann believes 10 of those cases are connected because the people have shared activities at a senior center.
The disease is difficult to catch and spreads with repeated exposure when someone with infected lungs talks, sneezes, coughs or sings.
Tuberculosis is treatable with antibiotics, but the multi-drug resistant strain has been more difficult to fight. This strain directly caused three deaths.
“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 second-line drugs,” said Ehresmann.
Those drugs are harsher because they come with more side effects and treating this specific tuberculosis strain requires more time and money.
A normal case of tuberculosis costs about $17,000 to fight, but when fighting multi-drug resistant disease, it jumps to $134,000.
“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,” said Ehresmann.
Last year, Minnesota had 168 cases of tuberculosis. So far this year, there have been about 160 cases.
For more information about tuberculosis, click here.