About 200 people possibly exposed to tuberculosis at Bayhealth

DOVER — Around 200 people may have been exposed to tuberculosis at Bayhealth Kent General between February and August, the state said Friday.
Although the disease is not confined to the hospital, the Division of Public Health says Delawareans should not be concerned.

According to the division, the state opened a probe earlier this year into a tuberculosis case involving a Delaware resident and, in August, learned there were seven related instances. Those cases had the same genetic makeup, indicating they are part of a “cluster.”
The spread is not seen as an outbreak because the number of confirmed tuberculosis cases is consistent with prior years, per DPH, which described the investigation as routine.

There have been 16 cases in the state so far this year, with half associated with the cluster.
“As part of its investigation into this cluster, which involves tracing any exposures the individuals may have had during their infectious period, DPH identified Bayhealth Hospital, Kent Campus, as a location in which people may have been exposed to an individual from the cluster investigation,” DPH spokeswoman Jen Brestel wrote in an email.

“As a result, with collaboration from Bayhealth, DPH has since identified approximately 200 individuals that were potentially exposed to TB at the health care facility between February and August of this year, and has begun making contact with them to recommend that they be tested for TB disease.

“We want to strongly emphasize that the risk to the general public is minimal, and currently, there is no evidence of uncontrolled spread of the bacteria. There is no risk to current patients at the hospital as a result of this exposure.”
DPH said it has reached out to individuals who may have been affected. People who did not receive a letter from the state should not be worried, according to Ms. Brestel, who added the division would have conducted a broad public awareness campaign if there was a risk to the general public.

“Not all cluster cases have been linked to Bayhealth,” she wrote. “Investigations were conducted for each individual case, and anyone identified as potentially being exposed at other locations, including residences, has already been contacted and those contact investigations are now closed.”
Citing privacy laws, DPH did not release further information about the cases.

Bayhealth said its employees who were potentially exposed have been notified and are being tested.
“A cluster of tuberculosis (TB) cases has been identified across the state,” Bayhealth said in a statement. “It’s important to note this is a statewide issue. Some of the individuals who are part of this cluster received care at Bayhealth.
“We have and continue to work very closely with our partners at Delaware Public Health to identify patients who may have been exposed. It’s important to note the risk of exposure is low. Additionally, TB is a preventable and curable disease.

“Any individual in the community who may have been exposed will receive a letter from Delaware Public Health with specific instructions on what they should do next.”
Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria that generally attack the lungs. It is spread by coughing or speaking or by breathing at close range.

Tuberculosis, or TB, consists of two types, latent infection and disease. Individuals with the former do not display symptoms and cannot pass germs to others, although the infection can turn into disease without treatment.
Symptoms for tuberculosis disease typically include a bad cough lasting at least three weeks that may see the person cough up blood or phlegm. Chest pain is also associated with TB.
The disease is not spread by shaking hands, sharing food or drink or kissing.

Treatment usually involves taking medication for either three months for the infection or at least six months for the disease.
For more information about tuberculosis, visit https://www.dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dph/files/tbfaq.pdf. Delawareans with questions or concerns can contact DPH at 283-7588 for New Castle County, 857-5130 for Kent County and 515-3200 for Sussex County.
Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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