SANTA BARBARA, Calif., Aug. 22 (UPI) -- Police in Southern California are searching for a man with a contagious, drug-resistant form of tuberculosis.
California law requires patients with drug-resistant cases of TB to undergo treatment for 18 to 24 months. But according to Santa Barbara County Health Department officials, 24-year-old Augustin Zeferino discontinued his treatment two weeks ago -- a misdemeanor.
A warrant for Zeferino's arrest has been issued, and police and health officials are asking anyone with knowledge of his location to contact local authorities by calling 911.
"With appropriate treatment tuberculosis can be cured," county health official Dr. Charity Thoman said in a press release. "Without treatment, it is often fatal and poses a public health threat due to airborne transmission. This is particularly true for drug-resistant cases. If Mr. Zeferino is contagious and he is out in our community, it is a public health emergency."
TB is a bacterial disease that most commonly attacks the lungs, but it can also infect other parts of the body like the kidney, spine and brain.
Tuberculosis rates are up around the world, and health officials worry that drug-resistant strands of the disease and gaining steam. More than a million people died from the disease in 2012.
"TB is competing with HIV/AIDS as the number one killer among the infectious diseases," Mario Raviglione, director of WHO Global Tuberculosis Program, told CNN earlier this year. "There are about 450,000 new drug-resistant TB cases every year and this is the scariest part of tuberculosis as you are left with less options to treat people, many of which are toxic."