More than 700 Texas infants exposed to tuberculosis at hospital
EL PASO, TEXAS (NEWSY) - Health care workers at Providence Memorial Hospital in El Paso, Texas, are scrambling to give tuberculosis screenings after more than 700 newborns and dozens of employees were exposed to the disease, according to the City of El Paso Department of Public Health.
Patients and employees were exposed to the infection after a healthcare worker, who works in the post-partum and the nursery with newborn babies, was revealed to have an active case of tuberculosis, according to El Paso's CBS station KDBC.
"The employee was immediately placed on leave and has not worked in the hospital since then," Dr. Enrique Martinez said in a news conference.
The worker, whose name has not been revealed, tested positive for tuberculosis on August 25. The hospital conducts annual screenings on employees, but officials believe the infected employee contracted the disease after his or her most recent screening.
More than 40 employees who came in contact with the sick worker have all tested negative, but now hospital officials are tasked with screening and if necessary, treating the hundreds of exposed infants.
In order to identify patients who might have been exposed, hospital officials matched the infected worker's schedule to the dates newborns were at the facility between September 2013 and August 2014, according to KDBC.
"The families of each patient are being contacted via telephone and certified letter with proactive screening instructions," according to a news release from the city's Health Department.
Post-exposure screen and follow-up will be provided free of charge, the news release said.
Tuberculosis, which typically affects the lungs, often doesn't show symptoms, according to WebMD. The disease is transmitted through the air.
"It's usually caught when other people cough up the germs and they then get breathed in and infect the lungs," Dr. John Moore-Gillon, a lung specialist at Saint Bartholomew's and Royal London Hospitals in London, told NHS Choices. "If the immune system is depressed in any way they're more likely to progress to get active disease and become ill with TB."
What makes this outbreak so troubling is that newborns have suppressed immune systems until they're about six months old, making them more susceptible to infection.
Still, officials attempted to ease some of the concern in a news conference last week, stating, "the hospital is safe."
Eva Moya, a professor at the University of Texas at El Paso and an international expert on tuberculosis, told the El Paso Times, there's more work ahead - especially in finding out how the worker contracted the disease in the first place.
"You need a contact investigation to break the circle of infection. The source of tuberculosis could be anywhere," Moya told the paper Sept. 20. "As long as you breathe, you are at risk for catching TB."
Only active TB can be spread, and while the disease can be fatal if left untreated, Moya told the El Paso Times that it is curable.