Augustin Zeferino, a 24-year-old man diagnosed with drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB), was last seen in Santa Barbara’s North County about two weeks ago, according to public health spokesperson Susan Klein-Rothschild. He is wanted by health officials, and a warrant has been issued for his arrest. If he’s contagious, Zeferino is a “public health emergency,” officials announced Friday morning.
About 24 patients are diagnosed with the infectious disease in the county each year, according to Dr. Charity Thoman. Last year, at least one person died in the county from the disease. Tuberculosis is an airborne illness that can be fatal without proper treatment. That’s particularly true for drug-resistant cases.
Especially concerning for health workers is that, in Santa Barbara County, 30-40 percent of current tuberculosis cases are drug-resistant whereas 10 percent of the 2,100 cases in the state are drug-resistant, Thoman said. “We have had an outbreak of drug-resistant for a year in Santa Maria,” she said, and added that the department tests every patient for a drug-resistant case. (An outbreak is defined as three or more cases, according to the Center for Disease Control).
It takes 18-24 months to treat drug-resistant TB while it takes 6-9 months to treat a normal case of TB, Thoman said. When a patient is identified as having drug-resistant tuberculosis, the county department works with the state health department, she added. The patient is monitored every day through a program called Drug Observed Therapy (DOT), in which a staff member makes a home visit to a patient’s house to administer the medication.
Klein-Rothschild declined to give out further information about Zeferino, but she said the department has an obligation to spread the word because “there might be a risk to others.” Klein-Rothschild said officials have worked with him in the past.