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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UMC ‘playing it safe’ over TB scare

    Following a tuberculosis scare at the UA Cancer Center, the Pima County Health Department and University Medical Center are working together to secure the health of 2,400 cancer patients exposed to the infectious disease.

    After an unidentified female patient received treatment at the center from January through August, it was discovered that she had contracted TB.

    Due to the serious nature of tuberculosis, the cancer center considered patients seen during the time frame as being possibly exposed, said Donna Breckenridge, chief communications officer for the cancer center.

    To protect those exposed, the Pima County Health Department sent letters to the 2,400 patients offering free tuberculosis tests at UMC through December, she said.

    It is not likely that any patients involved in the incident actually contracted the disease, due to the status of the female, said Dr. Sean Elliott, medical director of infection prevention at UMC.

    For the infection to be spread, one must be in direct contact with a person infected with tuberculosis for several hours while that individual is coughing vigorously, Elliott said.

    Because the infected patient was too weak to cough in such a way and was not in contact with other patients for several hours at a time, cancer center patients were not at a high risk for contracting the disease.

    The infected patient had contracted a form of tuberculosis completely treatable within the means of UMC. Unlike more serious kinds of tuberculosis, the form in question is not resistant to antibiotics, Elliott said.

    The search for tuberculosis among the potentially exposed patients is largely precautionary and was implemented because the exposure was to a population of individuals who were already weakened by cancer, he said.

    “”This wouldn’t be an issue if we weren’t dealing with cancer
    patients,”” Elliott said.

    If exposed individuals are found to have contracted tuberculosis, it will not be life-threatening, said Dr. Michelle McDonald, chief medical officer for the Pima County Health Department.

    Even if patients have contracted the disease, it is unlikely they are infected with active tuberculosis, making 100 percent treatment almost a certainty, she said.

    Still, the health department would rather play it safe and err on the side of caution than take a hands-off approach, McDonald said.

    “”It’s the right thing to do,”” Breckenridge added.

    Breckenridge said the situation is completely under control, and there is no need for the public to be worried.

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