Santa Barbara County Public Health Department is aggressively stepping up its search for a 24-year old man who has been diagnosed with a highly contagious and drug resistant form of tuberculosis, or TB.
Augustin Zeferino was under specific care five days a week to make sure he was taking pills and shots to control the tuberculosis, but he disappeared and the treatment has stopped three weeks ago.
Health Officer Dr. Charity Thoman says she is seeking to have Zeferino’s name on the “Do not board/ lookout list” to prevent him from any exit or entry by land, sea, or air to or from the United States.
She says the Centers for Disease Control is aware of Zeferino’s disappearance and has strict rules to protect the public from someone who is carrying a communicable disease.
Zeferino is the focus of a health alert due to his contagious TB that Dr. Thoman says can spread easily through close contact for an hour or more. If untreated, it can be damaging to a person’s respiratory system and become deadly.
The medication Zeferino has been on was scheduled to be taken for 18-24 months.
Zeferino has worked in the Santa Maria farm fields and lives in the area.
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s department is making regular checks at addresses where Zeferino has been known to stay, and deputies have been advised to use a specific N95 mask over their mouth and nose for protection if they come in contact with the wanted man.
Zeferino is believed to have an elevated TB condition due to the time that has elapsed since he last took his medication. He was not considered a public health threat when he was first tested for TB. By not following the orders of Health Officer, Dr. Thoman says the TB has become infectious.
Santa Barbara County is also working with the Cure TB agency to exchange information about Zeferino and any others who have an active tuberculosis case that travel between the
U.S. and Mexico. Health care providers in both the U.S. and Mexico are receiving medical information and pictures of Zeferino to help in the efforts to find him.
Mexico has a high TB rate, and research shows the low socioeconomic status and limited access to health care in the border area is a contributing factor to the spread of TB. There’s also frequent border crossings and travel for employment, commerce, health services, and leisure.
An increase in coordinated care across health jurisdictions on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border by Cure TB is believed to be assisting in stopping the spread of the disease.