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Health News Florida

Police Issue Alert for TB Patient

Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office

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.