A worker who exposed up to 560 patients and staff at four Detroit medical centers to tuberculosis was up-to-date on annual employee TB tests and all procedures were followed correctly, the Michigan Department of Community Health said Friday.
The dental worker, who is not being identified, tested positive for TB in December and was immediately pulled from their job. It’s possible the worker acquired TB in August, but the bacterial disease could have been dormant and not shown any symptoms, health department officials said Friday. It’s unclear how the employee became infected.
The worker, whose position is not being identified, has a number of negative tests on record, said Angela Minicuci, a spokeswoman for the state department of community health. All state health employees are required to have an annual TB test.
“I wouldn’t say this is an issue where procedurally anything went wrong,” Minicuci said. “It’s just a matter of an individual getting ill, getting a test and finding out they were positive.”
The worker came into contact with the patients between Aug. 1 and Dec. 17, according to the health department. The facilities are the Detroit Medical Center, with 450 possible exposures; the University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry, 77; Henry Ford Hospital, 23; and St. John Hospital and Medical Center, 10.
All four health centers are offering free TB tests for patients. Minicuci said the health department is “very confident” it has identified and reached out to all affected employees and patients.
TB is a treatable bacterial disease that can be serious. It’s spread through the air from one person to another. There are two forms: TB infection in which people have the bacteria in their bodies but are not sick, and TB disease, in which the bacteria multiply and cause people to become sick.
Dr. Matthew Sims, director of infectious disease research at Beaumont Health System, said TB symptoms can be very diverse, but the most common are a cough, fever, sweats and weight loss.
Sims said while common in the world population, TB is “relatively rare” in the United States. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 9,945 new cases of TB disease in the United States, of which 149 cases were in Michigan.
According to the health department, not everyone who is exposed to TB will be infected, and many people who have TB infection never develop the disease.
If a patient is infected with latent TB, Sims said they typically take one pill to treat it. Active TB can take up to a year to cure with four to five drugs, he said.
“It can be deadly if untreated,” he said. “It’s a major public health risk.”
Detroit News Staff Writer Tom Greenwood contributed.