Los Angeles Tuberculosis Cases Draw Federal Investigators

A tuberculosis outbreak in Los Angeles is spurring U.S. health investigators to help local officials contain the spread of the contagious lung infection.

Federal scientists will be dispatched in the next two weeks to work with Los Angeles officials, Scott Bryan, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said today in an e-mail. The Atlanta-based CDC was invited by health officials from Los Angeles County and the state of California to assist in an investigation, he said.

Tuberculosis is caused by a bacterium that usually attacks the lungs and can be fatal if not treated. It’s spread through the air when a person with the active disease of the lungs or throat coughs or sneezes. Bryan declined to explain in detail why the CDC’s help was requested, referring additional questions to local and state health departments.

The Los Angeles Department of Public Health didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment. The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that a persistent strain of the disease had been spreading through the homeless population in a city neighborhood. More than 4,500 people may have been exposed, the newspaper reported.

About 10,500 TB cases occurred in the U.S. in 2011, the lowest since national reporting began in 1953, according to the CDC. There were 529 deaths from the infection in 2009, the most recent year for which data are available, according to the agency.