A tuberculosis outbreak started at the Peachtree-Pine shelter. BOB ANDRES / AJC FILE PHOTO

Fulton tuberculosis turnaround garners CDC award

The 2015 letter to the Fulton County Commission chairman did not mince words: A tuberculosis outbreak centered at the Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter was approaching crisis levels. There was an “urgent need for immediate and decisive action” to stop the spread of the disease.

Two years later, it’s a completely different story.

Fulton celebrated World TB Day on Friday as a “TB Elimination Champion,” with an award from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2014, 44 people in Fulton County were diagnosed with a drug-resistant strain of the disease — 82 percent of all reported cases of that strain in the state, and more than half of all cases in the country, according to the letter from Georgia Public Health Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald. At least four people at the shelter had died from it.

In 2016, Fulton had its lowest level of new tuberculosis cases in 30 years. And so far this year, no instances of the drug-resistant strain have been found.

Now, there are weekly screenings at shelters, said David Holland, the chief clinical officer for communicable disease at the Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness. Shelter users have cards that show their tests are up-to-date. Staff members know to seek help if someone is coughing a lot, and to look for other signs of the disease.

“We’re not letting up,” Holland said. “Now, everybody’s thinking about TB, and they know about it.”

The outbreak came as the county health department was under fire for having not spent available CDC grant money to prevent HIV. The two crises led to change in state law that will make the Fulton health director a state employee.

Fulton commission chairman John Eaves said there was a “convergence of challenges” at the health department. Now, he said, the county is more responsive to any crisis it might face.

“It was a full-court strategy, all hands on deck,” Eaves said.

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