Prosecutors in Northern California said Thursday they have obtained an arrest warrant for a tuberculosis patient who is contagious and has refused treatment, putting those around him at risk.
Eduardo Rosas Cruz, a 25-year-old transient, went to the San Joaquin General Hospital's emergency room in March, complaining of a severe cough. Diagnosed with tuberculosis, medical staff told him to stay in a Stockton motel room, where a health worker would deliver his medication and watch him take it. But officials say he took off.
County health officials asked prosecutors to seek the warrant, in part, because Rosas Cruz comes from a part of Mexico known for its drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis. County health officials are searching for Rosas Cruz, and his name is in a statewide law enforcement system, San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Stephen Taylor said.
"He could be in a homeless shelter. He could be around the corner from the courthouse," Taylor said. "We don't know."
Tuberculosis spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The disease most commonly infects a person's lungs and can cause death.
Health officials in San Joaquin County were not immediately available for comment. In court papers filed in support of the warrant, officials say Rosas Cruz resisted treatment from the start. He also uses crack cocaine and methamphetamine, officials said, estimating that he would need medical care for seven months.
He went to the hospital after feeling shortness of breath for two weeks, had a high fever and had lost considerable weight, in addition to the cough, according to court papers.
Taylor, who prosecutors public health cases, said he seeks arrest warrants like this once or twice each year.
In mid-2012, officials in San Joaquin County arrested Armando Rodriguez, who refused tuberculosis treatment. Taylor said Rodriguez, age 34 at the time, was released Jan. 7, 2013.
Taylor, who did not know the status of Rosas Cruz's residency, said he is not interested in punishing him through the criminal court system. Rather, Taylor said he is using the courts to protect the public's health.
"We're interested in this guy because he broke the orders of the health officer," Taylor said. "It's all that's left on the shelf."