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Atlanta hospital notifies nearly 700 patients about TB exposure

By the CNN Wire Staff
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TB exposure at Atlanta hospital
  • NEW: Number and rate of TB cases has been on the decline since 1993, CDC says
  • A hospital employee unknowingly exposed patients and staff to TB, the hospital says
  • The exposure occurs between November and February
  • TB can be fatal if not properly treated

Atlanta (CNN) -- Nearly 700 patients and 100 employees at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta have been exposed to tuberculosis after coming in contact with a hospital employee carrying the disease, a hospital spokesman said Thursday.

The Georgia Department of Community Health and the hospital have identified 680 patients who were exposed to tuberculosis between November and February, said hospital spokesman Lance Skelly.

Patients will begin getting tested for tuberculosis next week, Skelly said. To date, no patients or employees have reported symptoms of tuberculosis, he said.

The hospital and the department began notifying people about the exposure this month, after an Emory employee was diagnosed in April with the infectious disease, he said. The employee did not know he had tuberculosis when he came in contact with employees and patients, the hospital said.

The hospital took extra precautions by contacting patients who were in the hospital for 90 days before the day the employee is known to have developed the disease, Skelly said. "That is a major reason the numbers are so much higher."

All hospital employees are screened for the disease and must receive screenings each year, it added. A hospital statement did not say whether the employee had been screened.

About 11 million people in the United States are infected with latent tuberculosis, which is symptom-free and is not contagious.

Of those, 5 to 10 percent go on to develop active tuberculosis, which can be spread to others through the air, such as through coughing or sneezing. It can be fatal if not properly treated.

Symptoms of tuberculosis include chest pain, a bad cough (possibly with blood), weakness and a fever. While tuberculosis usually impacts the lungs, the kidneys, brain and spine may also be affected.

Both the number and rate of tuberculosis cases has been on the decline since 1993, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The number of reported deaths nationwide dropped from 644 in 2006 to 544 in 2007, the most recent year for which such data is available, the CDC said.