The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) confirmed on Wednesday it’s tracking an outbreak of tuberculosis.
Seven cases and another possible case have been traced to three Minnesota counties.
The known cases have all impacted the Anywaa community in Minnesota, according to MDH.
It’s not because they are more prone in any way, they aren’t. They likely have not had access to medical resources that the average American-born person would, said Apee Ochudho, the executive director of non-profit Anywaa Community in the Twin Cities metro.
“As a community, whenever there is something like that, we have a concern. And we were not aware of it as an issue until now,” Ochudho said after learning of the outbreak from 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.
Ochudho set up the non-profit to help the relatively small community of immigrants in the state assimilate after fleeing from a couple of east African countries, primarily making the trip from refugee camps in Nairobi, Kenya, he said.
“There a lot of challenges, violence, and a lot of killing that people are fleeing from,” Ochudho shared. “So I think the current issues may have been as a result of not finding it when they were in Kenya. It could have been treated there.”
Most tuberculosis cases are caught before refugees leave for the U.S., he said, but if not, additional barriers can keep Anywaa people from getting tested or treated.
“Most of the problem really is the language and not familiar with the help, like where to get health insurance cards, and also where to get services,” Ochudho explained. “We will reach out to all of the members of our community, so that to make sure this does not continue to be a problem.”
Tuberculosis has become increasingly rare in the U.S. after decades of public health control efforts. It’s preventable and curable, but can be deadly if left untreated, according to the CDC.
The airborne disease typically attacks the lungs, often spreading within households or between people who are together regularly in close quarters.
There have been seven reported cases in Washington and Stearns counties, including three kids, and another possible pediatric case in Benton County between fall 2022 and spring 2023, according to an internal letter from MDH. The risk to the general public is very low, according to MDH.
Washington County has four active cases, according to county public health officials who said that’s not abnormal for the area.
State health officials and Ochudho encouraged anyone in the Anywaa community to bring their families into a clinic to be evaluated.
“This is something that we will address, so we are concerned, but we will be able to get through it,” Ochudho said.
He encouraged anyone in the Anywaa community who has questions about testing or the outbreak to call the non-profit at 612-532-2753.
Washington County health officials said they are calling anyone that may have come into contact with the people with confirmed cases.