National Hispanic Heritage Month: Agustin Zeferino

(I had pre-written cases for September 30 and October 1, using the app on my phone. I didn’t realize until very late on October 1 that neither of them went up, and in fact they seem to have vanished. I need to stop using that app to try to write entries; it never seems to work well. I am trying to reconstruct the entries from memory.)

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month I’m featuring a Hispanic missing person every day from September 15 to October 15. Today’s case is Agustin Zeferino, who disappeared from Santa Barbara County, California on August 11, 2014. He was a farm worker, probably a migrant.

Zeferino’s case is kind of unusual and scary because he was undergoing treatment for drug-resistant tuberculosis at the time of his disappearance, and he was supposed to take medication for up to two years.

Although he was asymptomatic and not contagious at the time of his disappearance, since he disappeared he’s obviously stopped the treatments and he would have become contagious again and started developing symptoms again. As Zeferino’s disease is a threat to public health, a warrant has been issued for his arrest.

Without treatment, about there’s about a 50-50 chance that tuberculosis will kill you, unless you’re HIV positive that is, in which case it’s extremely lethal. The illness kills slowly; untreated, about one-third of patients die within two years and another third within five years. The person is ambulatory for most of that time — I think Edgar Allen Poe’s wife went dancing the same night her TB finally killed her — and spreading it everywhere they go.

I really really hope Zeferino is okay and just moved on, and that he has resumed his treatments wherever he is now, perhaps in another country. Because if he didn’t resume his treatment, he’s probably dead now, and he’s probably made other people sick.

A different kind of fugitive

My policy on people wanted on criminal charges is this: if the criminal charges are thought to be the primary reason they disappeared, I don’t put them up. Those people are considered “wanted” rather than “missing” in my eyes. On the other hand, if a person happens to be wanted for committing a crime but appears to have disappeared for other reasons, I will put them up. The more minor the charge, the more likely I am to post them, on the idea that a person’s not going to run from a few unpaid parking tickets but just might run from murder or armed robbery or suchlike.

Today I encountered a kind of case I’d never seen before: a man who is wanted, not by the police per se, but by the public health authorities. He’s got drug-resistant tuberculosis. It was apparently in remission or something by the time of his disappearance and he wasn’t contagious, but he still had to get regular treatment for it. Then he dropped of sight, I don’t know why, and stopped coming in for treatments. Without the medication his illness has certainly reactivated. It is now contagious and it’s going to kill him if he doesn’t get treatment. There’s a warrant out for his arrest and the county board of public health issued an alert for him.

Since he is listed in the CDOJ database of missing persons, I decided to add him to Charley too. Given the aggressive nature of tuberculosis, I have to wonder if the poor man is even still alive. My guess is if he is, he’s probably somewhere south of the border, which would explain why he hasn’t turned up after over a year.

(I’m actually quite interested in the history of tuberculosis and can recommend Thomas Dormandy’s The White Death as an excellent book on the subject.)