Tuberculosis concern has officials pushing to test the homeless

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - On any given night, as many as 4,500 people are homeless in Orlando. Many of those on the streets are families and children.

Now, local health officials want to test all of those who are homeless for tuberculosis.

"It's focused on three things: identification, containment, elimination," said Bakari Burns, CEO of Health Care Center for the Homeless.

The concern comes after the biggest TB outbreak the Centers for Disease Control has seen in 20 years. That outbreak is happening just 140 miles from Orlando, in Jacksonville.

Health officials said the outbreak was was linked to 13 deaths and 99 illnesses in Jacksonville. It's believed to have started with the homeless, but spread beyond the homeless population.

The Health Care Center for the Homeless in Orlando says the general public in Orlando shouldn't be worried.  But officials said they can't take any chances with the contagious disease, which is spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

"What happens if you don't do anything?" WFTV reporter Kenneth Craig asked Burns.

"That's what I'm concerned about. And I really don't want to find out," said Burns.

But health care workers have to find those at-risk first.

Health officials estimate 500 of those homeless people live in camps, in the woods around Orlando. Because of that, they're going to be deploying teams of workers to find the people and test them.

Officials said the testing could cost as much as $86,000. The city of Orlando, Orange County and Florida Hospital all plan to help pay for it.

So far this year, 58 cases of TB have been reported in Orange County. That number, according to officials, is up over last year.

The Health Department added that it takes being exposed to someone with TB over prolonged periods of time to become infected and that it’s not just simple cough and sneeze.