San Jose Nurse’s Active TB Infection Prompts Warning at Hospital

Jenna Lyons, SF Gate, December 12, 2015

A nurse at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center contracted active tuberculosis, potentially putting 350 infants in the San Jose hospital’s newborn nursery at risk.

The center placed the employee on leave in mid-November before the diagnosis was confirmed, Joy Alexiou, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said Friday. A group of potentially exposed people in the Mother & Infant Care Center between mid-August until the time the woman left have been notified.

Apart from the babies, an additional 368 mothers and 338 employees were also exposed to the infected worker, said Dr. Stephen Harris, chair of pediatrics. Staff are providing chest X-rays to babies along with a daily antibiotic liquid, which can kill the disease and prevent infants from becoming sick.

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This case was particularly strange, Harris said, as the woman had active TB but didn’t even know it.

“TB is carried by a lot of people in California in what’s called a latent state,” he said. “It’s incredibly common for any individual to have inactive TB. It’s activated under unusual circumstances.”

In fact, the nurse passed the hospital’s annual TB screening in September, Harris said. Staff found out the employee was infected after she was evaluated by her doctor for a different medical reason.

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Allison Thrash, a health information officer with the county’s Public Health Department, said Santa Clara County has a large number of active TB cases–the fourth-highest prevalence of TB among jurisdictions in California.

“The rate is higher in this county,” she said. “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.”

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