Indy officials battle TB in homeless population

INDIANAPOLIS - Indianapolis health officials have ramped up their efforts to battle an illness targeting one of the city's most vulnerable populations.

At the Wheeler Mission, the state's largest service provider for homeless men, the Health Department is on call with free tuberculosis (TB) screenings at least twice a week.

One Wheeler client, who asked not to be named, received the results this week of his first TB screening in five years.

"I just took it so … I didn't think I was going to be positive, none of that," he said. "So I went ahead and did it. And when the test came back, it was negative."

Homeless shelters offer one of the most dynamic environments for the spread of tuberculosis. At the Wheeler Mission, 12 homeless men are being treated for latent tuberculosis, a non-contagious form of the disease.

"It's  definitely a big scare for us in terms of the number of guys that we service, trying to contain it, to make sure our population is tested and treated for it," said William Bumphus, assistant director at Wheeler Mission.

Nearly 10,000 Indianapolis residents will experience homelessness at least once a year.

One of those men, named Dale, said a woman who lived in the same camp along the White River went to the hospital three weeks ago with TB.

"I stay to myself so much because there are a lot of diseases going on around here," Dale said. "You never know what somebody else has got."

Horizon House, the state's largest daytime homeless shelter, partners with the Marion County Health Department to offer free TB screenings to its clients. Health officials, who closely monitor the disease, reported more than 1,500 latent cases of TB, and 36 individuals with contagious TB.

"It's something that we need to keep a close eye on," said Monica Heltz, a registered nurse with the Marion County Health Department. "It's something that we want to pay close attention to, because any increase could create potential problems for us."

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