Over 1,000 in US hospital at risk of TB exposure

NEW YORK • More than 1,000 people, including 350 infants, may have been exposed to tuberculosis (TB) in the maternity wing of a hospital in the United States after an active case of the disease was diagnosed in a nurse, hospital officials said.

The Santa Clara Valley Medical Centre in San Jose, California, said it was notified in mid-November that an employee who worked "in the area of the newborn nursery" had been given the diagnosis, with the potential to infect hospital staff and patients, including the newborns. The potential exposure occurred between August and November, it said on Sunday.

Hospital officials said as many as 1,026 people may have been exposed to the disease: 350 infants, 308 employees and 368 parents, primarily mothers. Hospital officials said they had identified all patients, staff members and visitors who might have been exposed and were contacting them.

Dr Stephen Harris, chairman of paediatrics at the hospital, said that the risk of infection remained low but that "the consequences of a tuberculosis infection in infants can be severe". He said the hospital would begin offering preventive treatment to the exposed infants "as soon as possible".

Those treatments include diagnostic testing as well as a daily dose of isoniazid, an antibiotic that can prevent infants exposed to tuberculosis from developing the disease, the hospital said. Employees and other patients, including the mothers, will also be screened and receive treatment as needed. So far, no one has tested positive for the disease.

TB is an airborne disease that spreads when an infected person coughs, sneezes or spits, but only someone with an active case is contagious. Although it typically attacks the lungs, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, it can also attack other parts of the body and, if not properly treated, can be fatal.

In a Facebook post, hospital CEO Paul Lorenz said the potential exposure was "an unusual and unfortunate circumstance", adding: "Everyone should feel confident that our staff are appropriately screened for tuberculosis and the safety of patients and staff is our top priority."

The hospital said the infected nurse tested negative for tuberculosis during an annual check in September. The diagnosis was made after her personal physician took an X-ray during a visit for an unrelated medical condition. The nurse has been placed on leave.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2015, with the headline 'Over 1,000 in US hospital at risk of TB exposure'. Print Edition | Subscribe