Tuberculosis outbreak in LA's Skid Row spurs CDC to step in

FILE- In this April 14, 2006, file photo, a homeless woman seeks shelter under construction scaffolding in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles. The city of Los Angeles is violating the county health code in its Skid Row area by allowing the nation's densest population of homeless people to live on streets infested with rats, human excrement and used hypodermic needles, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has found, in a survey conducted through May 2012. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

An outbreak of tuberculosis in Los Angeles' Skid Row has caused scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to step in.

CBS Los Angeles reports thousands of people who inhabit the downtown L.A. stretch known for its heavy homeless population may have been exposed to the highly contagious bacterial respiratory infection. The CDC has launched a coordinated effort to contain the outbreak and has been screening people living in the area.>

"They make you go get checked before you get into one of these programs because they don't want it spread out in there," John Williams, who started living in the Weingart shelter on Skid Row two weeks ago, told CBS Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Times reports that an estimated 4,650 people may have been exposed to the disease, and officials are focusing their efforts on tracking them down for testing and treatment. The paper adds that nearly 80 cases of tuberculosis have been discovered so far, and 11 people have died from the disease since 2007, most of them homeless who live in or around Skid Row.

"This is the largest outbreak in a decade," Jonathan Fielding, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, told the L.A. Times. "We are really putting all of our resources into this."

Tuberculosis can be spread through air droplets projected when infected people cough or sneeze. It is caused by the Mycobacterium tuberculosis. People with weakened immune systems may be especially at risk to develop the infection.

Last June, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health ordered a cleanup of Skid Rowfor health code violations. The agency said the area's sidewalks were infested with rats, human excrement and used hypodermic needles.