State and local public health officials are offering few details about the mysterious tuberculosis (TB) death of a patient first diagnosed last month at a hospital in Fremont, Nebraska.
Fremont is a city of 26,000 about 40 miles northwest of Omaha that was at the center of a national controversy in 2010 when it passed an ordinance that prohibits landlords from renting to individuals who are not American citizens.
“Three Rivers Public Health Department said they received notification that a patient evaluated and treated at Fremont Health on October 29, 2017 tested positive for tuberculosis. That patient was transferred to Nebraska Medicine and later died at that facility,” WOWT reported.
“We’re actively investigating this case of TB and we’re interviewing family and community members to identify any setting where other individuals might have been exposed to this patient,” Terra Uhing, executive director of Three Rivers Public Health Department, which is responsible for public health in three rural counties–Dodge, Washington, and Saunders–with a combined population of about 77,000, said in a statement released on Monday.
“Safety is our number one priority and we’re taking all the necessary steps to make sure people identified at risk for exposure are evaluated,” Uhing added in that statement.
Deaths from active TB are rare in the United States, since highly effective and relatively inexpensive treatment regimens have been widely in effect for more than five decades. Virtually all patients who receive an early diagnosis and complete the treatment regimen survive. The patient who was diagnosed with TB in Fremont, Nebraska on October 29 died within days of that diagnosis, indicating the patient had been walking around with active TB for many months prior to death.
Either the patient died of active TB that was never diagnosed or treated for months–possibly even years– or the patient died of the even more dangerous multi-drug resistant strain of TB (MDR TB). MDR TB has a high morbidity rate of 39 percent, even if it is treated.
As Breitbart News reported, an outbreak of 17 cases of MDR TB has been reported recently in Minnesota.
Breitbart News spoke with Uhing over the phone late Wednesday asking more questions about the mysterious TB death.
Uhing confirmed that the patient who died was not a student or staff member at a local public or private school. Additional sources confirmed to Breitbart News that the patient was not a student or staff member at Fremont Public Schools, the largest public school in the three county area.
Uhing also said that “roughly 35 individuals have been tested” by Three Rivers Public Health Department for TB, but she refused to provide answers to any of these five additional questions:
1. Was the patient foreign-born?
2. If so, what was the country of origin?
3. If so, what was the patient’s immigration status upon entry?
4. Was the patient diagnosed with MDR TB?
5. How old was the patient?
Sixty-seven percent of the cases of TB diagnosed in the United States in 2016 were foreign-born.
Uhing told Breitbart News that she knows the answers to four of these five questions, and anticipated issuing another statement to the press on Thursday, at which point those questions might be answered.
Breitbart News asked the Nebraska Department of Public Health to comment, but did not receive a response.
The controversial housing ordinance passed by the city of Fremont in 2010 remains in effect, although it was challenged in federal court.
The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ordinance in 2013, and the Supreme Court did not choose to hear the subsequent appeal.
“The controversial housing ordinance targeting illegal immigrants in Fremont, Nebraska, has turned out to be toothless,” the Omaha World-Herald reported in 2015:
The federal government is not providing city officials with the immigration status of renters suspected of being in the country illegally. And without the information, no rental housing licenses have been yanked.
Fremont’s mayor says a fix is in the works.
During the year since the ordinance went into effect, nearly 1,300 people have paid $5 for occupancy licenses to move into rental housing. The application requires people to declare whether or not they are U.S. citizens.
At least 35 renters indicated that they were not U.S. citizens, so the city asked federal officials to determine whether the renters are legally in the country. The government did not provide answers, saying it needed more information about the renters.
Fremont and Dodge County have seen a recent influx of immigrants, many of whom work for local meat processors.
The small town of Nickerson in Dodge County recently turned away a company that wanted to establish a chicken processing plant there, as the Associated Press reported in 2016:
More overtly, John Wiegert, from nearby Fremont where two meat processors employ many immigrants, questioned whether Nickerson’s plant would attract legal immigrants from Somalia — more than 1,000 of whom have moved to other Nebraska cities for similar jobs, along with people from Mexico, Central America and Southeast Asia.
In September, former CBS News Anchor Katie Couric stopped in Fremont while filming a documentary there for National Geographic:
Couric also visited the farm of retired Hormel worker Greg Soukop near Hooper, among other stops.
National Geographic wouldn’t confirm the topic that brought Couric to Fremont.
Soukop said the interview focused on his experiences as a lifelong area resident, as well as his experience at Hormel.
“What they were looking for when they contacted me was someone who worked at Hormel back in the days before they lost production, when the wages were a lot higher,” Soukop said in a phone interview with the Tribune.