COLUMBIA — MU Health Care officials are still unsure how a health care worker diagnosed with an active case of tuberculosis contracted the disease.
Bacteria can live in your body without making you sick.
For most people who breathe in TB bacteria and become infected, the body is able to fight the bacteria to stop it from growing.
The only sign of TB is a positive reaction to the tuberculin skin test or special TB blood test.
People with latent TB are not contagious.
Only about 5 to 10 percent of infected people will develop active TB at some point in their lives. About half of those people who develop active TB will do so within the first two years of infection.
People with latent TB are often prescribed treatment to prevent them from developing TB.
TB bacteria becomes active if the immune system can’t stop it from growing.
Symptoms include a bad cough that lasts three weeks or longer, pain in the chest, coughing up blood or sputum, weakness or fatigue, weight loss, no appetite, chills, fever and sweating at night.
Risk of infection increases with longer and closer contact to the person with the active disease.
The disease can be serious, but most individuals can recover completely due to effective treatments.
A person with active TB can be treated by taking several drugs for six to 12 months.
There are two types of tests: TB skin test and special TB blood tests.
A positive test only indicates that a person has been infected with TB bacteria. It does not tell whether the person has progressed to TB disease.
Other tests, such as a chest X-ray, are needed to see whether the person has TB.
Who should get tested
People should be tested if they have spent time with a person known or suspected to have active TB, have an HIV infection that weakens their immune system, have symptoms of active TB, are from a country where active TB is common or live somewhere in the United States where active TB is common.
Information gathered from MU Health Care
The worker was removed from clinical duty and is being treated, Les Hall, chief medical offer at MU Health Care, said at a news conference Monday afternoon at University Hospital.
The hospital has begun taking steps to notify people who may have been exposed to the worker. So far, they have contacted fewer than 20 people. MU Health Care officials weren’t sure how many hospital employees and patients may have been exposed to the disease by the worker.
“Although the risk to most in this case is low, patients with significant risk will be contacted to arrange for appropriate testing," Hall said in a news release provided to the media at the news conference. “By taking this proactive approach, we are confident that we can identify and manage the risks to patients and staff who may have come in contact with this worker.”
Heath care officials would not identify the worker or which MU Health Care entity he worked at. MU Health Care encompasses University Hospital, Columbia Regional Hospital, Ellis Fischel Cancer Center and six other entities.
Like all MU Health Care employees, the worker received routine TB tests. His last test, in fall 2008, was negative. His illness was disclosed after he recently sought treatment for a cough he thought was caused by allergies.
Thursday, a TB test administered by MU Health Care's infection control department was positive. The Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services were immediately notified and are aiding MU Health Care with follow-up procedures.
“MU Health Care routinely requires all employees to have a TB skin test at regular intervals. For most people, it’s annually if you test negatively,” Mary Jenkins, spokeswoman for MU Health Care said. “If you tested positive, those employees are monitored more closely and anyone with a positive test would have a chest X-ray and then the diagnosis would be confirmed with a blood test.”
TB is an infectious disease caused by bacteria. The disease can be either latent or active, according to MU Health Care. Individuals are only contagious when they have active tuberculosis.
The disease is transmitted when an infected person coughs and someone breathes in the bacteria, Hall said.
TB is a slow-moving condition with gradual symptoms, and that allows times for treatment, Hall said. However, if untreated, it can develop into a serious condition, he said.
So far this year, there have been 30 confirmed TB cases in Missouri. In 2008, there were 107 cases, said Harvey Marx, chief of the Bureau of Communicable Disease Control and Prevention.
Boone County has roughly two to six active cases each year, said Debra Howenstine, medical director of Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services.