Gwinnett Medical Center, Lawrenceville campus
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Gwinnett Medical Center has warned more than 100 former patients of an employee recently diagnosed with an active tuberculosis infection.
Hospital and health department officials held a press conference Tuesday morning, four days after they reportedly sent letters to 133 former patients who "may have been exposed" to an unidentified employee diagnosed with tuberculosis in mid-May. They're urging those patients to get tested.
"I want to emphasize that the risk of contracting TB from this type of exposure is low, but it is important to do everything possible to rule out the possibility that any individual may have had a significant exposure," Dr. Alan Bier, GMC executive vice president and chief medical officer, said.
"The Department of Public Health is responsible for tracking infectious disease and we are working closely with them to rapidly facilitate completion of TB skin tests for all potentially exposed individuals."
According to information presented Tuesday, the infected employee was scheduled for an annual tuberculosis skin test this month but developed symptoms -- which can range from coughing, chest pain, fever and general sickness or weakness -- beforehand. Following protocol from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, officials went back to Feb. 1 to alert those potentially exposed.
Those affected can receive free testing at the health department's preventative health and TB center, located at 455 Grayson Highway, Suite 400 in Lawrenceville. Alana Sulka, the director epidemiology with the Gwinnett County Health Department, said as of Tuesday morning none of the patients who received letters had been tested.
It was unclear how the employee was exposed in the first place.
"At this point the investigation is ongoing," Sulka said. "We are looking into that."
Officials declined to reveal the hospital employee's exact occupation or specific work area. The employee is on medical leave and is "cooperating fully with treatment," Bier said.
"We feel that this person will do fine," he said.
Tuberculosis is a disease that typically affects the lungs, but can also spread to the brain, kidneys and spine; if untreated it can be fatal. There is no standard immunization for TB in the United States, Sulka said.
The Gwinnett Health Department's TB Center can be reached at 678-442-6880.
OPEN LETTER TO THE COMMUNITY FROM GMC
Earlier today Gwinnett Medical Center officials held a press conference to reach out to the public via local media in order to make everyone aware that GMC has discovered that some patients and employees have been exposed to an active case of tuberculosis (TB).
As you may know, TB can be spread when someone with active TB disease coughs into the air and other people close by breathe in the contaminated air. The timeframe for this exposure was between February 1, 2013 and May 10, 2013.
We have identified 133 patients who may have been affected. These individuals should have already received a return-receipt letter from Gwinnett Medical Center. The letter strongly encourages them to take a TB skin test – the most common way to tell if a person has been exposed to an active case of TB.
If you received a letter, please get tested promptly at the site listed in the letter. Testing is free by going to the health department location in the county.
We want to emphasize that the risk of contracting TB from casual exposure is low, but it is important to get tested. The Department of Public Health is responsible for tracking infectious diseases and ensuring that individuals with active TB receive appropriate medical treatment. We are working closely with them to rapidly facilitate completion of TB skin tests for all potentially exposed individuals.
As background, in mid-May 2013, an employee of Gwinnett Medical Center was diagnosed with active TB. Employees take a TB skin test annually based on best practices. This employee tested negative in both 2011 and 2012 and was due for the annual test this month. As soon as GMC became aware of the situation, we began working closely with the Gwinnett County Health Department to ensure the appropriate individuals were notified and encouraged to be tested. We have also identified and tested a number of hospital employees. All tests to date have been negative.
To avoid confusion and community concern, our goal is for the facts of this situation to be shared so that everybody involved – from the affected patients to the community at large and those of us who are managing the response – will be better informed and can react effectively.
Serving and caring for the people of this community is our privilege. Gwinnett Medical Center has a long, successful history as the primary healthcare provider here and our services have expanded as the needs of the people living here have increased. We strive to do everything we can to keep patients, visitors and employees safe. This includes actively communicating important safety information to employees and members of the community we serve We will continue to work with Public Health and all other officials to meet the needs of our patients and employees and continue to provide outstanding care to the community.
Philip Wolfe, President and Chief Executive Officer
Alan Bier, MD, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer