Five babies test positive for TB in Texas

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(CNN) — Five babies in El Paso, Texas, have tested positive for tuberculosis after being exposed to the infectious disease at a local hospital, the city’s health department says.

Providence Memorial Hospital has identified more than 850 infants and 43 health care workers who were potentially exposed after a nurse came to work with an active case of TB some time between September 2013 and August 2014. He or she worked with infants in the nursery and in the post-partum unit at the hospital.

It’s important to note, health officials said, that the babies who tested positive do not have active cases of TB. Four of them received the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin vaccine for TB that may be generating false positives. Still, all will be given treatment.

“I want to apologize to the parents. I take full ownership of this,” Providence CEO Eric Evans said at a news conference last week. “I represent over 3,000 dedicated co-workers … all struggling with the fact that this happened at our facility. We’re going to make this right.”

The infected health care worker is no longer working and is receiving treatment, the owner of the hospital, Sierra Providence Health Network, said in a statement.

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease that generally causes coughing, chest pain and difficulty breathing, according to the Mayo Clinic. An estimated 2 billion people worldwide have what’s called latent TB, where the bacteria remain dormant and don’t cause symptoms.

“Once in the body, the bacteria usually lay dormant for months or years before they begin to grow and cause a case of active TB,” the El Paso Department of Public Health said in a statement. “That is why it is so important to identify people who may have been exposed, screen them, and provide treatment.”

The bacteria that cause TB spread through the air when an infected patient coughs or sneezes, but it’s not a highly contagious disease; close contact over a longer period of time is required before another person becomes infected, according to the Mayo Clinic. Only active TB can be spread.

Patients with TB must take antibiotics for six to nine months. Some strains of TB are resistant to antibiotics, which makes them more dangerous. Without treatment, TB can be fatal, the Mayo Clinic says.

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