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Atlanta confronts tuberculosis outbreak in homeless shelters

By David Beasley

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Three homeless people in Atlanta have died of tuberculosis infections as Georgia public health officials work to contain an outbreak affecting shelters, state authorities said on Friday.

The outbreak has infected 47 people, including two volunteers, linked to four shelters in Atlanta's Fulton County, said Nancy Nydam, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Public Health.

An isolated case is also being monitored in Vance, Alabama, where health officials on Friday screened auto workers for the disease after an employee at a Mercedes-Benz plant tested positive.

The transient homeless population is especially vulnerable to the disease, caused by airborne bacteria and spread through coughing or close contact with those already infected.

“A homeless person may stay at one shelter one night, but go to another shelter the next night,” said Nydam.

Atlanta is one of several cities, including Los Angeles and Jacksonville, Florida, to see in recent years outbreaks of the disease, which is generally on the decline in the United States.

Last year there were 9,588 new tuberculosis cases reported in the United States, which represented a 4 percent decline in the rate per 100,000 people from a year earlier, said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is helping to investigate the Georgia outbreak.

Last week, health officials in Georgia sent letters to the churches operating shelters, explaining the symptoms of the disease and how it is transmitted, Nydam said.

In Alabama, health officials on Friday worked with Daimler AG, the company that operates the Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, to evaluate workers possibly exposed.

“Only those people who were in close contact with the case need to be tested,” said Alabama health officials in a statement.

(Editing by Letitia Stein and Jim Loney)

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