Tuberculosis breaks out at Chicago migrant shelters following measles cases


Chicago health officials have announced that a “small number” of tuberculosis (TB) cases have been reported at some migrant facilities following a recent outbreak of measles among migrants living in the Windy City’s shelters.

The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) said the TB cases were reported in “a few different shelters” in the city. However, officials did not disclose the exact number of confirmed cases or which shelter locations they originated from, Fox 32 Chicago reports. 

The agency says its medical teams are ramping up contact tracing to address the health issue. Tuberculosis is an infectious bacterial disease that mainly affects the lungs.

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Tuberculosis under a microscope and a Chicago migrant shelter

Tuberculosis under a microscope and a Chicago migrant shelter

The confirmed tuberculosis cases come as more than 55 measles cases have now been confirmed in Chicago, with the majority of those cases being reported in the Pilsen migrant shelter on Halsted Street.

“CDPH is aware of a small number of cases of TB among new arrivals in a few different shelters over the course of the response,” the health agency said in a statement to Fox 32.

The health body said 10% to 20% of Central and South American residents have a latent TB infection, which is asymptomatic and not transmissible to others. It does, however, result in a positive TB test, CDPH says. 

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CDPH says TB is curable with antibiotics and is not particularly infectious. It typically requires several hours or more of prolonged close contact between individuals to spread.

“TB is not a novel or rarely seen illness in Chicago, as the Chicago Department of Public Health typically expects to see between 100-150 cases of tuberculosis in Chicago residents in an average year,” the CDPH statement reads. “We will continue to offer treatment to individuals as necessary and take the proper precautions to eliminate spread, but we do not consider this a matter presenting a substantial threat to the public.”

Tuberculosis bacteria

This 2006 electron microscope image provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria, which causes tuberculosis. (Janice Carr/CDC/AP)

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Raymond Lopez, a Chicago alderman, told “Fox and Friends” on Thursday morning that this outbreak could have been prevented had the migrants been required to follow the same vaccination rules as U.S. citizens.

“This is a crisis we could have avoided, just like with the measles, if we had simply instituted the American standard of vaccines upon all those migrants being shipped to the city of Chicago,” Lopez said. 

“Many of these individuals come with children, they are in our schools and all of those vaccination requirements that our kids are responsible for are waved for the migrant asylum seeker children. And that is putting the people, families and communities at risk.”

The TB vaccine, known as BCG, is not widely used in the U.S. but it is often given to infants and small children in other countries where TB is common, the CDC website says. The CDC says it does not always protect people from getting TB. 

Dr. Aniruddha Hazra, associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, says the vaccine is not really effective. 

“There is no effective vaccine against tuberculosis,” Hazra told Fox 32 Chicago. “These outbreaks happen in close quarters, people who are living close to one another.”

Hazra says that while the situation is cause for concern, the public has no reason to panic.

Migrants outside Chicago shelter

Children cover their heads as they sit outside of a migrant shelter on March 13, in Chicago. (AP/Erin Hooley)

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“The people who are most at risk of tuberculosis are the other migrants living in that shelter,” said Hazra, who added that measles, however, is preventable through vaccination.

The TB outbreak comes after the number of U.S. tuberculosis cases in 2023 were the highest in a decade, according to the CDC.

Cases increased from 8,320 in 2022 to 9,615 in 2023, an increase of 1,295 cases with numbers going up among all age groups. Data from the agency shows nearly 10,000 infections in 2013.

Fox News’ Greg Norman contributed to this report. 



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