Endemic tuberculosis, the homeless, and public transportation: A merging of geographical information systems surveillance and the Houston Tuberculosis Initiative Surveillance project

Marsha Lynn Feske, The University of Texas School of Public Health


To reach the goals established by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) STOP TB USA, measures must be taken to curtail a future peak in Tuberculosis (TB) incidence and speed the currently stagnant rate of TB elimination. Both efforts will require, at minimum, the consideration and understanding of the third dimension of TB transmission: the location-based spread of an airborne pathogen among persons known and unknown to each other. This consideration will require an elucidation of the areas within the U.S. that have endemic TB. The Houston Tuberculosis Initiative (HTI) was a population-based active surveillance of confirmed Houston/Harris County TB cases from 1995–2004. Strengths in this dataset include the molecular characterization of laboratory confirmed cases, the collection of geographic locations (including home addresses) frequented by cases, and the HTI time period that parallels a decline in TB incidence in the United States (U.S.). The HTI dataset was used in this secondary data analysis to implement a GIS analysis of TB cases, the locations frequented by cases, and their association with risk factors associated with TB transmission. This study reports, for the first time, the incidence of TB among the homeless in Houston, Texas. The homeless are an at-risk population for TB disease, yet they are also a population whose TB incidence has been unknown and unreported due to their non-enumeration. The first section of this dissertation identifies local areas in Houston with endemic TB disease. Many Houston TB cases who reported living in these endemic areas also share the TB risk factor of current or recent homelessness. Merging the 2004–2005 Houston enumeration of the homeless with historical HTI surveillance data of TB cases in Houston enabled this first-time report of TB risk among the homeless in Houston. The homeless were more likely to be US-born, belong to a genotypic cluster, and belong to a cluster of a larger size. The calculated average incidence among homeless persons was 411/100,000, compared to 9.5/100,000 among housed. These alarming rates are not driven by a co-infection but by social determinants. The unsheltered persons were hospitalized more days and required more follow-up time by staff than those who reported a steady housing situation. The homeless are a specific example of the increased targeting of prevention dollars that could occur if TB rates were reported for specific areas with known health disparities rather than as a generalized rate normalized over a diverse population. It has been estimated that 27% of Houstonians use public transportation. The city layout allows bus routes to run like veins connecting even the most diverse of populations within the metropolitan area. Secondary data analysis of frequent bus use (defined as riding a route weekly) among TB cases was assessed for its relationship with known TB risk factors. The spatial distribution of genotypic clusters associated with bus use was assessed, along with the reported routes and epidemiologic-links among cases belonging to the identified clusters. TB cases who reported frequent bus use were more likely to have demographic and social risk factors associated with poverty, immune suppression and health disparities. An equal proportion of bus riders and non-bus riders were cultured for Mycobacterium tuberculosis, yet 75% of bus riders were genotypically clustered, indicating recent transmission, compared to 56% of non-bus riders (OR=2.4, 95%CI(2.0, 2.8), p<0.001). Bus riders had a mean cluster size of 50.14 vs. 28.9 (p<0.001). Second order spatial analysis of clustered fingerprint 2 (n=122), a Beijing family cluster, revealed geographic clustering among cases based on their report of bus use. Univariate and multivariate analysis of routes reported by cases belonging to these clusters found that 10 of the 14 clusters were associated with use. Individual Metro routes, including one route servicing the local hospitals, were found to be risk factors for belonging to a cluster shown to be endemic in Houston. The routes themselves geographically connect the census tracts previously identified as having endemic TB. 78% (15/23) of Houston Metro routes investigated had one or more print groups reporting frequent use for every HTI study year. We present data on three specific but clonally related print groups and show that bus-use is clustered in time by route and is the only known link between cases in one of the three prints: print 22. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

Subject Area

Geographic information science|Public health|Epidemiology

Recommended Citation

Feske, Marsha Lynn, "Endemic tuberculosis, the homeless, and public transportation: A merging of geographical information systems surveillance and the Houston Tuberculosis Initiative Surveillance project" (2011). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3481853.