More than 700 patients and about 40 employees at Providence Memorial Hospital were exposed to tuberculosis, public health officials said.
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By: Genevieve Curtis EL PASO, Texas - The city's Department of Public Health is investigating a tuberculosis exposure in which 706 infants came in contact with TB.
A health care worker at Providence Memorial Hospital with an active case of tuberculosis exposed 706 newborns in the postpartum and newborn nursery area and 43 employees between September 2013 and August of this year to the deadly disease. Officials from the hospital and City of El Paso
Health Department held a press conference Friday morning.Now the Department of Public Health wants to make sure every baby is tested for TB and has sent letters to all of the parents of babies exposed to the disease.
Providence screens all of its employees annually for diseases, but its testing process failed to identify active tuberculosis in this health care worker.
“We learned of the employee having active tuberculosis when the patient had a test and the test came positive,” said Martinez.
“Was that testing at the hospital does or was that their own test,” asked Curtis
“This is testing that was ordered by the physician, the primary care physician,” said Martinez.
“Soo it wasn't through the hospitals screening?” asked Curtis.
“Correct,” said Martinez.
Curtis asked, “Was there screening done by the hospital in that exposure time period?”
Martinez replied “We do annual screening of all our employees but i cannot disclose any more information on this particular patient because that’s confidential.”
“But during the annual screening it wasn’t determined that they had tuberculosis, is that correct?” asked Curtis
“During the annual screening it was not picked up,” said Martinez.
About 3,000 babies are born annually at Providence Memorial, meaning over the course of almost a year nearly 1 in 4 babies came in contact with tuberculosis.
On Sept. 8, Providence Memorial Hospital officials confirmed to KFOX14 that one of its employees tested positive for TB. Nurses and technicians were tested, but a hospital spokeswoman told KFOX14 that the worker did not come into contact with any patients.
The orginal statement released to KFOX14 indicated that the hospital informed the city Health Department, which determined the employee is at very low risk of passing the infection to others.
As a result, hospital officials said the Health Department told them there was no need to ask any patients to be screened.
Statement from Providence Memorial Hospital released on Sept. 8 to KFOX14:
Providence Memorial Hospital notified the El Paso Health Department that an employee has tested positive for Tuberculosis (TB) and the health department has determined that the employee is at very low risk for passing the infection to others. Because of the employee's very low-risk status, the health department has decided that there is no need to ask any patients to be screened. However, acting with an abundance of caution, the health department has recommended testing a specific group of employees who had worked in close contact with the employee.The employee has been off the job since mid-August. The hospital is working closely with the health department to ensure the health and safety of patients and staff. The employee testing is on top of the TB tests that all hospital employees are required to have on an annual basis. Hospital and public health officials said they learned of the employee’s positive test for active tuberculosis on August 25. KFOX14 reporter Genevieve Curtis asked the chief medical officer for Sierra Providence, Dr. Enrique Martinez, about the conflicting statements. “Is 700 patients low risk to you?” asked Curtis. Martinez deferred the question to Robert Resendes, public health director. “It’s one of those gray areas if it’s medical or administrative. TB is complex to diagnose. There is a skin test. Skin tests are known to give false positives. ... If the person is being productive, there’s sputum, we try to grow that sputum. Sometimes that takes weeks, months,” said Resendes. Curtis then asked, “We were told the employee was at low risk of passing this on to patients and that there was no need for patients to be screened. So from last Monday to this Friday, you're telling me you were able to determine that 700 people, newborn children, were potentially affected and now should be screened, is that correct?” “If that sputum came out positive in that time period, it changes everything,” said Resendes. “Is that what happened from last Monday when we were given that statement until this Friday?” asked Curtis. “I don't have the exact dates, but yes,” said Resendes. “Last Monday was Sept. 8, and you determined that she-- that the employee-- had tuberculosis on Aug. 25,” said Curtis.“But that doesn’t mean she was infectious. This is the complicated thing with tuberculosis. You can be exposed, you can be infected, you can be infectious, there are lots of different categories. As far as the babies are concerned, as soon as that person was determined to be infectious, it changes everything,’ said Resendes. “So that’s what I'm asking. Between those days, last Monday when we were given this statement and to this Friday is when you determined that that employee is infectious?” asked Curtis.“Yes, yes. Then things moved much quickly thereafter,” said Resendes. KFOX14 asked Providence Memorial administrators how they could assure the public other employees don’t have serious transmittable diseases after their tests failed to identify this case of active TB. “One cannot say that that 100 percent of employees at any hospital will be free of any communicable disease because that is not possible. But we do the best that is out there in terms of recommendations,” said Martinez. Health officials said so far, the 43 employees did not test positive for active TB and are undergoing further tests.They added that the 706 infants cannot transmit the disease.
The Health Department is "working closely with the staff of Providence Hospital and has carefully reviewed employment and medical records to determine exactly which infants and employee were exposed," Friday’s press release stated.
The hospital and the city's Health Department will be providing free post-exposure screening and follow-ups, and public health officials are collaborating with state officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to facilitate the screenings.The patients and families are being contacted by phone and through certified letters with proactive screening instructions.
Parents who receive the phone call or letter should contact the city's Department of Public Health by calling 211 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to schedule a screening. The number will also be active from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday, officials said.
Only those who received a letter should call 211.
The New Mexico Department of Health said it will provide tuberculosis screening to about 50 N.M. babies who may have been exposed to the disease.
Screenings will take place Sept. 23 at the Sunland Park Public Health Office and Sept. 24 at the Anthony Public Health Office.
Las Cruces residents can contact the Las Cruces Central Public Health Office at 575-528-5108 to get tested.
Tuberculosis can be spread when a person with active TB disease coughs or sneezes. However, it is not highly contagious and generally requires close contact over an extended period of time in order to be spread, health officials said.
Check the hospital's calendar of list of possible affected days
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