Tuberculosis Doctor: Should Parents Worry?


While the discovery that a doctor at three Chicago-area hospitals has tuberculosis may have worried many parents, early signs indicate that there is little reason for concern.

Since it was first announced Friday that a resident who had rotated through Children's Memorial Hospital, Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Evanston Hospital has TB, testing done on her close friends and family members have returned showing no signs of the illness, reassuring officials that the woman was not highly contagious.

"At this point ... we are encouraged by initial, preliminary results," said Dr. Susan Gerber, speaking on behalf of the Chicago Department of Public Health. "We are encouraged that [friends and family] who the individual was with around that time are, so far, negative."

Gerber noted, however, that the department is continuing to investigate the situation and is considering possible new recommendations for TB testing for hospital personnel.

"I think right now it's possible that this situation could begin a conversation about how often physicians are tested for TB or how they're tested for TB," she said. "As we move forward, I'm sure those conversations would happen."

Additionally, Gerber said, the department has worked with the three hospitals to set up phone lines for concerned parents and others.

Gerber said that while people have called, they have not panicked.

"Although people are concerned, people are not alarmed," she said.

It remains unclear where the resident contracted TB, although some speculation has placed it with her time at an HIV clinic in Africa in 2007, and it simply did not show up on a skin test.

Dr. James McAuley, a pediatrics infectious diseases expert at Rush University Medical Center, noted that in two-thirds of the cases of adult TB, the disease does not immediately become evident through the skin test.

While the test should have been positive for the resident by the time she began her residency, "the skin test is not a perfect test," McAuley said. While she might have had a false negative after picking up TB in Africa, "it's also possible that she picked it up in one of the U.S. hospitals."

In a few weeks, he said, researchers will be able to "fingerprint" the strain of TB the resident has and know more about where she picked it up.

Gerber confirmed the notion that the resident may have picked up TB within the United States.

"I can remind you that we have TB in Chicago," which had 214 new cases last year, Gerber said. "That's an all-time low for Chicago, but I do have to remind people that we do have TB in Chicago."

The announcement of Chicago's record-low TB count came less than a month ago, for World TB Day on March 24.

Close Contacts

"There are certain children who have been patients that are going to be recommended for testing depending on the degree of contact," Gerber said. "I think the most important thing is that the institutions are reaching out to patients and their families."

Spokespeople for all three of the hospitals affected say they have reached out to parents whose children were in the wards when the resident was.

Kathleen Keenan, a spokeswoman for Children's Memorial Hospital said that 122 pediatrics patients were believed to have been in contact with the resident and their parents were contacted; six children and one parent were tested over the weekend and they fielded between 70 and 100 phone calls, which were answered by nurses or, in two cases, deferred to doctors.

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