December 13, 2015
TB Warning In California: Babies Exposed To Tuberculosis In San Jose

A TB warning (tuberculosis) in California was issued on December 11 by a San Jose hospital. Approximately 350 infants have been placed at risk for developing TB because they may have been exposed to the disease by a hospital employee who worked in the maternity ward.

The Santa Clara Valley Medical Center announced that a nurse who worked in their Mother & Infant Care Center has tested positive for active tuberculosis. The nurse had been place on leave in mid-November, before the diagnosis was verified, reported SF Gate.

The hospital is trying to track down all the infants, their mothers, and also the 338 employees who were also potentially exposed to the disease between mid-August and mid-November, stated ABC 7 News.

The nurse was unaware she had active TB until it was was diagnosed when she was treated for a different illness by her physician. She had passed the required TB screening in September.

Many people carry TB and don't realize it, because it is a latent form. It is quite common in California. Santa Clara County has the fourth highest rate of active tuberculosis cases of all counties in California, says Allison Thrash, Health Information Officer for the Public Health Department.

"The rate is higher in this county. There's a number of reasons for that. It has to do with the make up of our population. There are many parts of the world where TB is endemic, particularly some Asian countries and some Latin American countries. We have a very diverse population in Santa Clara County."
TB is usually spread through the air by an infected person speaking, singing, coughing or sneezing. If someone nearby breathes in the bacteria, they become infected. If the body can fight off the bacteria, the disease goes latent. Otherwise, it grows and can infect other parts of the body.

"While she does have active tuberculosis, she does not have cough and did not have cough, so was not coughing up tuberculosis during the time she was working," said Dr. Steven Harris, Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Santa Clara Hospital.

The medical center set up a call center and letters to the families were sent out just last week.

Why Did The TB Warning to Parents Take So Long?

"We didn't want to scare a lot of people and not have any answers to what we are going to do about it. We are confident the amount of time we took was justified to make sure we were doing the right thing," Harris continued.

According to SF Gate, the hospital had to check the infected nurse's work schedule to see which infants and moms had contact with her. After putting together that list, they contacted experts to analyze the potential harm vs. benefit of chest x-rays and drugs on infants. The ages of the children range from just a few weeks old to about three months.

The hospital staff is recommending the babies be given an antibiotic every day for six to nine months.

What Are The Warning Signs of TB?

TB is a disease called mycobacterium tuberculosis. It once was the leading cause of death in the United States. The following symptoms may indicate the disease.
  • Night sweats
  • Fever
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Coughing up blood
  • Coughing for longer than three weeks
  • Chest pain
A complete medical evaluation should be done for anyone showing the signs of TB. This would include a medical history, a physical examination, a chest x-ray and diagnostic tests.

A simple test, called the Mantoux tuberculin skin test (TST) or the TB blood test, can be used to screen for the disease. However, further testing would be necessary to confirm the diagnosis.

What do you think of the timing of the hospital's TB warning in California? Do you think they contacted the parents quickly enough?

[Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images]