- Associated Press - Friday, February 5, 2016

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley on Friday announced the authorization of more than $200,000 in emergency funding to help public health officials continue responding to a tuberculosis outbreak in Perry County.

Bentley’s office authorized $235,000 to help the Alabama Department of Public Health continue testing and treatment programs in Marion, where public health officials say an outbreak of the airborne bacterial infection has killed three people since 2011. Tuberculosis typically attacks the lungs and is marked by a persistent cough, night sweats, weight loss and other symptoms. Public health officials have said the infection typically spreads through extended exposure in close quarters to someone who has the disease.

ADPH Division of Tuberculosis Control Director Pam Barrett has said the deaths prompted aggressive screening efforts, which included paying area residents to get tested and follow up with treatment if necessary. The emergency funding from the governor’s office will help pay for additional testing and treatment in the area, Bentley said in a statement.

“We are dealing with a very aggressive TB outbreak in Perry County, and it is important that the Alabama Department of Public Health have all available resources to help treat and mitigate this disease,” Bentley said. “As a doctor, I know the importance of treating any disease early and often, and as Alabama’s governor, I have resources to help.”

As of Feb. 2, more than 2,000 people had been tested for tuberculosis in Marion, Barrett said. Public health officials have diagnosed 29 tuberculosis disease cases in the county since January 2014 and the department is currently handling 11 active cases, Barrett said. Public health officials announced two new active cases of the disease on Thursday. Barrett said 151 people who were tested had latent infections which are typically asymptomatic and not contagious, but can develop into tuberculosis disease without treatment.

Marion is a city of roughly 3,600 about 80 miles west of Tuscaloosa and Perry County is among the poorest in the state. Tracking the spread of the disease has been complicated in part by privacy concerns among the area’s residents, public health officials have said.

“The initial case and even current cases are reluctant to give us the names of people they had been around, therefore we don’t know who to test and treat preventatively,” Barrett said. “They are very private people and do not want us to know who they had been around even though we stress the confidentiality.”

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