Infected Texas Hospital Employee Could Have Exposed 700 Babies To TB Bacteria

An employee at the Providence Memorial Hospital in El Paso, Texas, could have inadvertently infected over 700 babies with the deadly Tuberculosis (TB) bacteria, reports ABC News, citing local health officials. The unnamed employee, whose identity has been protected under privacy laws, tested positive for TB on August 25, and has been on leave ever since.

However, hospital officials now fear that she might have exposed almost 700 infants and about 40 other employees of the hospital to the disease. She is believed to have contracted TB in September 2013. According to Dr. Hector Ocaranza, the health authority for El Paso county, it is likely that TB and its symptoms remained dormant in the worker. However, since she closely interacted with babies and other hospital employees, she may have inadvertently infected them as well. TB is a highly contagious disease that easily spreads through air by coughing or sneezing.

According to Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Health Services, “This is an incredibly large exposure investigation, and it involves infants, so it is particularly sensitive. Babies are more likely than older children and adults to develop life-threatening forms of TB.”

Meanwhile, officials with the El Paso Department of Public Health said they are taking extra care to identify babies and people who have been infected. They add that the TB bacteria can stay dormant inside the human body for months, or even years, before they become active and infect a person. Several hospital workers who were tested for TB are now awaiting their results. Hospital authorities have issued letters to the families of all the babies who they think could have been infected by TB. The hospital authorities are offering free screenings in order to confirm if they have been infected by the TB bacteria. The hospital is checking patient and employee records, as well.

Authorities have not yet revealed how the hospital employee became infected with TB in the first place. They are now trying to identify employees and patients who might have been exposed to the TB bacteria in order to take preventive measures.

According to a state Health Department officials, this case of TB exposure was one of the biggest they have encountered. They were also quick to add that, in its current form, the TB exposure does not represent a public health threat. Nevertheless, the news about exposure of patients and employees of the Providence Memorial hospital to TB has resulted in regulators inspecting the hospital to assess its safety standards. The ABC News report says that they did find several violations by hospital authorities that could potentially jeopardize the hospital’s Medicare funding.

This is not the first time cases of TB have been reported in the U.S. In El Paso County alone, there were 49 confirmed cases of TB last year. Texas, on the other hand, reported about 1,200 TB cases statewide.

[Image Via Wikimedia Commons]