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Health officials fear immigrant typhoid, tuberculosis

LOS ANGELES -- Communicable diseases, including typhoid fever and tuberculosis, carried by illegal immigrants from Latin America are causing increasing worry among health authorities in the nation's 'new Ellis Island.'

Dr. Shirley Fannin, associate director of Communicable Disease Programs for Los Angeles County, said the immigrants bypass routine pre-immigration health checks and 'literally bring the diseases with them.'

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More than 20 million meals a week are served in the city's restaurants and fast-food outlets and a University of California, San Diego, survey has found 42 percent of illegal immigrants work in such low-paying service jobs.

The most threatening to public health, officials say, are typhoid - which can be transmitted in food handling -- and tuberculosis. Last year, Los Angeles recorded 13 percent of the typhoid fever cases in the country. Hispanics had 61 percent of those cases.

The UC San Diego study found that only one in eight illegal immigrants have medical coverage and two-thirds have never had a checkup, unless taken ill.

An estimated 1.5 million illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America live in Los Angeles, which Rand Corp. demographer Kevin McCarthy calls 'the new Ellis Island.'

The diseases they bring with them 'are endemic to Third World countries,' Dr. Fannin said.

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'After watching the cases of typhoid here stay right around 12 percent of all the cases in the United States, I'd have to be concerned about a general threat to the public health,' said Nina Mauch, nursing consultant for the county's Communicable Disease Control Office.

But Dr. Fannin discounted the seriousness of a public health threat and said the outbreaks of typhoid in the county have been few compared to the total population.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, the rate of tuberculosis among Hispanics is 42.2 per 100, almost twice the national rate.

'I don't think we're at a situation (with tuberculosis) where we can outright control it,' said American Lung Association spokesman Ron Arias. 'Is it a time bomb? It could be. You have the public health threat potential.'

Studies have also found that the physician-to-patient ratio, a major indicator of health care, is worst in the predominantly Hispanic East Side than in war-torn El Salvador or Honduras.

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