Federal health officials planning to help out with a Skid Row tuberculosis outbreak might be foiled by the federal budget impasse.

That according to Los Angeles County director of public health Jonathan Fielding, who told reporters today that the federal “sequester” that would impose deep cuts on federal spending March 1 unless Congress can come up with a deal could hamper the efforts of the Centers for Disease Control to send health workers to L.A. Not good?

Fielding seemed to downplay the import of the outbreak, telling reporters in an afternoon conference call today that it is “not a threat to the public at large.”

He said TB is harder to get than the flu or common cold. “You don't get it from … a handshake …,” he said.

Even so, the LAPD is informing officers on one Skid Row foot beat to wear surgical-type masks if they believe they might come into contact with homeless who have tested positive for TB, police told the Weekly.

View Larger Map

That includes the area near the Union Rescue Mission near Fifth and San Pedro streets, where recent weekly TB testing turned up a few positives, we were told.

Meanwhile, Fielding apologized for waiting so long to confirm reports of the outbreak. It has been five days since it was first reported, with county public health officials unable to confirm any facts and figures over the phone.

Fielding said he wanted to ensure the the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors had all the information … before the public at-large did.

To be fair, he also emphasized that this was not a sudden outbreak but one that's been ongoing since 2007,

“I guess the question is, 'What was news?' he said.

(We would argue that it's up to us, the media, to decide that question, and that it's up to public officials to give up public information in a timely manner).

According to county health officials, a specific strain of TB has infected 78 people since 2007, with 60 of them homeless. Fifteen of those cases, the largest chunk, happened last year.

There have been 11 deaths so far.

[@dennisjromero / djromero@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]

Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.