350 infants, over 670 adults potentially exposed to tuberculosis by California nurse

© Michaela Rehle
Over 1,000 people, including as many as 350 infants, could have been exposed to tuberculosis by an infected nurse in the maternity wing of California’s Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. The infants will now be monitored for signs of active tuberculosis.

According to the San Jose-based hospital, apart from the 350 infants, 308 employees and 368 parents, primarily mothers, were potentially exposed to TB between August and November of this year.

The Center’s officials say they have identified all of the patients, staff members, and visitors who were at SCVMC’s Mother & Infant Care Center during that period and are currently contacting them.

“While the risk of infection is low, the consequences of a tuberculosis infection in infants can be severe. That’s why we decided to do widespread testing and start preventative treatments for these infants as soon as possible,” said Dr. Stephen Harris, chair of pediatrics, according to an official press release.

The nurse, whose name is not being disclosed, was put on leave before her diagnosis was confirmed. It appears that she had undergone a tuberculosis test in September 2015 that yielded a negative result. However, the nurse’s physician discovered TB in an X-ray taken while looking into an unrelated medical condition.

TB-causing bacteria can be spread from one person to another through the air. Symptoms include weakness, chest pain, fatigue, chills and fever, among others.

All of the 350 infants will receive daily preventive treatment, which includes isoniazid – an antibiotic that kills tuberculosis.

“Infants will need a chest X-ray and preventative medication,” the hospital said, stressing that “tuberculosis is difficult to diagnose” in babies.

Mothers and employees will be tested and treated, if necessary.

The SCVMC has offered its apologies for the situation. “This incident is an unfortunate reminder that TB remains an ongoing health concern for our community,” said Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9,421 cases of tuberculosis were diagnosed in the United States in 2014.