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Police Issue Alert for TB Patient

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

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 Newsin 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.

Originally founded in December 2006 as an independent grassroots publication dedicated to coverage of health issues in Florida, Health News Florida was acquired by WUSF Public Media in September 2012.