A former carnival worker who may have been spreading a highly contagious - and often fatal - form of tuberculosis throughout Salt Lake County has been ordered to remain quarantined at home.
The order came following a highly unusual court hearing Wednesday in which the contagious transient was present only via telephone.Third District Judge Homer Wilkinson did not want the man present in his courtroom, saying there was too much risk of spreading the communicable disease. Health officials recommended that the judge could safely hold the hearing outdoors or require everyone in the courtroom to wear masks. But despite protests from the man's defense attorney, the judge decided to permit the man to participate by a cellular phone taken to his home by a county nurse.
The phone's battery even went dead at one point during the proceedings. The man was escorted by a masked nurse to a public phone booth, where he was sworn in and testified on his behalf.
Wednesday's hearing resulted from complaints from the Salt Lake City-County Health Department, which petitioned the court to use legal authority to force the man to follow health recommendations that he had ignored.
Health officials testified that the man has been treated for the disease ever since it was first diagnosed in 1976 when he lived in Florida. The Deseret News elected not to use the man's name or address to protect him.
"He has been diagnosed multiple places multiple times with tuberculosis," said Dr. Barbara McCusker of the state health department. "Our medical records indicate his compliance (to treatment) has been very spotty."
McCusker said the man has a form of tuberculosis that is resistant to traditional drug therapy. Anyone the man coughs or breathes on could contract the deadly disease. He came to Utah in 1988 and began receiving treatment from the Salt Lake City-County Health Department.
But McCusker said the man has not always cooperated with health officials who have tried to treat his disease and does not demonstrate concern for the health of others.
Dr. Harry Gibbons, Health Department executive director, said two county health nurses, wearing protective masks, in June drove the man to a Denver hospital that specializes in tuberculosis cases. He was treated for more than four months until he was listed as a "treatment failure."
"Because he was not a cooperative patient, he was kicked out of the hospital and put on a train. He returned to Salt Lake City," Gibbons said. "He's from no place, but because we tried to help him he's been branded as from here."
After he was returned to Utah, health officials put him in a temporary, well-ventilated structure. Nurses and others hired by the department visit him daily to make sure he takes his medication. They also purchase food for him.
But witnesses at the hearing testified he often does not wear his mask - even though he is instructed to do so in the presence of other people.
Additionally, Salt Lake police have caught him in the past panhandling and he has tried to stay at shelters for the homeless. Gibbons said the man was seen using his welfare check to buy alcohol.
Wilkinson ordered the man to stay at home. He said he could leave only when wearing a mask. He was ordered not to go anywhere where people congregate, such as a bar, a bus or in a taxi. He was also ordered to allow health officials to watch him take his medication twice a day and to allow the Health Department to regulate his Social Security income.
Gibbons wishes the judge had done more.
"I don't have a fight with the judge, but I am sorry they wouldn't let us put the alarm on him," Gibbons said. The health department had requested the man be fitted with an electronic surveillance bracelet, allowing the department to monitor his whereabouts.
Wilkinson said he would consider ordering the bracelet if the man doesn't comply with court orders.