Concerns rise about cost and spread of drug-resistant tuberculosis with diagnosed immigration detainee

Drug-resistant tuberculosis could be a new epidemic concern.

A man who has been diagnosed with drug-resistant tuberculosis is now being held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody.

The reason he has been kept as a detainee by the federal government is not only to prevent spread of the disease, but also to avoid costs of care going to the state of Arizona where he would have gone. The decision to keep him and pay for care in federal custody was due to Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) appeal to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

According to The Hill:

The Pinal County director of public health was right to be concerned: Drug-resistant tuberculosis can require 18 to 24 months of treatment and can cost more than $500,000. A local health department’s entire budget can be depleted with just one case.

Despite the fact that tuberculosis rates have generally been declining in the U.S., drug-resistant cases have shown up more and are concerning medical professionals that an epidemic could be emerging.

One of the issues at hand is the fact that people without legal status in the country aren’t able to get an insurance plan through Obamacare. People coming in from abroad, even if they can afford it, can’t protect set themselves up for care, and therefore others are at risk.

Even if the federal government is taking financial responsibility for the case at hand, funding is still too low if it begins to spread, The Hill reported.

Congress should appropriate additional funds to cover the costs of tuberculosis treatment that are now borne by local health departments. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also need more money to take on the responsibility of locating and monitoring tuberculosis patients who move from one jurisdiction to another, since many local health departments do not have the ability to do so. Drug-resistant tuberculosis may be the least of our public health challenges. Antibiotic drug resistance of all kinds struggles for national attention.

At least for drug-resistant tuberculosis, we know that without adequate funding, the potential spread of tuberculosis at epidemic levels is all but certain. Sen. McCain is right that costs of treatment and prevention should be a federal obligation, but not simply as a one-off solution to an isolated case. This problem is too costly to ignore.