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Relatives of TB patient test positive for disease

LAWRENCEVILLE - Four people living in a Duluth home with a 17-year-old boy diagnosed with tuberculosis have tested positive for the same disease.

The Gwinnett County Board of Health began an investigation Friday to determine who Francisco Santos of 1712 The Falls Parkway may have infected.

A superior court judge ordered Santos, a day laborer from Mexico, be placed in an isolated cell in the Gwinnett County Jail's infirmary Friday night following reports that the 17-year-old had the pulmonary disease and was refusing treatment.

Santos' TB was discovered when he went to Gwinnett Medical Center complaining of fever, weight loss and coughing up blood - common symptoms of the disease, health authorities said at a press conference Monday.

"On Friday, Aug. 24, the Department of Public Health was notified by Gwinnett Medical Center that the subject had been diagnosed with active, contagious pulmonary tuberculosis," said Gwinnett County Health Department spokesman Vernon Goins at the Monday conference. "We were told that he was refusing treatment and said he would leave the country, and that's what brought the Board of Health into play."

Goins said eight of Santos' family members living in the Duluth residence were tested earlier in the week. Test results back Wednesday confirmed four of those people tested positive for the disease.

"Those four tested positive but are not actively ill," Goins said. "Chest x-rays were negative, and we will treat them to keep the disease from developing."

Goins said the four are not contagious and will follow the typical TB treatment for nine months.

According to Goins, five other of Santos' relatives were tested Wednesday for the pulmonary disease, bringing the final total of tested family members to 13. He said the results of those tests are expected Friday.

A Wednesday court date has been set to determine whether Santos can be released from confinement, Goins said.

While the Sheriff's Department's Web site lists Santos as being charged with contempt of court, health officials maintain the actions surrounding Santos are not criminal.

Helen Ellis, a registered nurse and interim director of epidemiology for the Board of Health, interviewed Santos Saturday and said it is unclear why the 17-year-old refused medical treatment Friday but said the teen in currently cooperating and taking the recommended medications.

"The young man is responding well to his medications," Goins said.

While it has not been said where the teen may have contracted the disease, Goins said his office is not concerned with Santos' status in the United States or whether Santos could have brought the TB from his native country.

"We don't know his status. Public health is concerned about stopping the disease. We don't get hung up on demographics," Goins said.

While more than 500 cases of TB are reported in Georgia each year, Goins said this is the first case of court ordered TB isolation since the mid-90s.