FARGO — At its meeting Monday night, the Fargo City Commission voted 4-1 to approve a contract for targeted tuberculosis infection and treatment. Commissioner Dave Piepkorn voted against.
“On Friday, there was a breakout of tuberculosis in Mankato (Minn.),” Piepkorn said. “That’s in our area, that’s of legitimate concern.”
Piepkorn was referring to a TB outbreak on the campus of Minnesota State Mankato that has affected at least eight people. He told the commission he recently received a phone call from a nurse at a Fargo hospital saying that a doctor and nurse had been unexpectedly exposed to TB.
“It concerns me if it happens in Fargo,” Piepkorn said. “I think we should at least know when this happens. It’s a serious issue.”
According to the contract, the North Dakota Department of Health will conduct TB screening of people considered high risk for the disease. Anyone diagnosed with TB will be treated and a report of the results will be provided later this year.
“This is a delicate issue, Mr. Piepkorn,” Commissioner John Strand said. “I just don’t want to get into targeting populations of people and identifying them as bringing different risks or not.”
Strand said testing for TB would be a good topic to discuss at the next Fargo Cass Public Health board meeting, which takes place at noon Feb. 15 at Fargo City Hall. Meetings are open to the public.
In response to Strand, Piepkorn said, “If you knowingly bring people here that you know have a contagious disease, it doesn’t matter what race they are, that isn’t good, that isn’t a good move on our part and we’re going to be held accountable. And it’s not just the city commission, it’s the federal government, the state government and LSS (Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota).”
Desi Fleming, director of Fargo Cass Public Health, said TB would be discussed at the next board meeting and invited the commissioners to attend. On Monday night, she told commissioners that refugees are tested twice for TB before arriving in Fargo.
“They are tested and there are very strict standards for not letting people with active TB into this country,” Fleming told the city commissioners. “You don’t hear about it because we have a really good system that works.”
The TB program commissioners approved Monday night is funded through the federal government and carried out by the state public health department. The program offers grant funding to help communities test and control for tuberculosis in high-risk populations.
The program’s guidelines, as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, define high-risk populations. In the context of the TB program, high-risk populations, include, “refugees, migrants or recent arrivals from high incidence countries, high-risk racial/ethnic populations within the jurisdiction, the homeless; injection drug users; recent contacts of an active TB case. Residents of high-risk congregate settings (i.e. jail/prison populations, nursing homes (not employees) and other long-term care facilities for the elderly . . . ” and so on.
After the meeting, Piepkorn said his vote against the program was a protest against groups bringing refugees with tuberculosis to Fargo.
“We shouldn’t be bringing people here who have tuberculosis, that’s the thing that bothers me,” he said. “For us to intentionally bring more people here on purpose, that’s not very smart to me. My main thing is, LSS says the refugees that are being brought here are being tested. Well if they test (positive) for tuberculosis, they shouldn’t be able to come here. It’s a public safety issue.”
He said he is also concerned about people with hepatitis and HIV entering the community.