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Police Issue Alert for TB Patient

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Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
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In a highly unusual case, police issued an alert seeking the public's help in finding a homeless woman who left Tampa General Hospital on Saturday before she learned that she has tuberculosis.

The press release identified the woman as Sarah J. Williams, 53, also called Sarah J. Owens. ABC Action News in Tampa posted a photo of her from 1998 from police files, shown at left.

ABC Action News says that the woman left the hospital on Saturday before finding out she was positive for TB, and that a Tampa General doctor alerted the police on Sunday.

A police spokesman said the alert was issued for the welfare of the public, but the physician's identity and motive for alerting police were not known.  Release of patients' identifying information is usually withheld under federal law, but there are certain exceptions in the interest of public health or interest of the patient herself.

Steve Huard, spokesman for the Hillsborough County Health Department, said he is trying to find out the details on this case.

"I've never seen anything like it," he said.

Huard cautioned that the public should not regard this as a serious public health threat, since TB transmission requires prolonged exposure.

The patient was described as 5-feet-6 and 100 pounds, with medium-brown skin, last seen wearing long brown pants and a blue-green beanie.

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.After serving two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia, Gentry worked for a number of newspapers including The Wall Street Journal, St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times), the Tampa Tribune and Orlando Sentinel. She was a Kaiser Foundation Media Fellow in 1994-95 and earned an Master's in Public Administration at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 1996. She directed a journalism fellowship program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for four years.Gentry created Health News Florida, an independent non-profit health journalism publication, in 2006, and served as editor until September, 2014, when she became a special correspondent. She and Health News Florida joined WUSF in 2012.
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