Last Monday, Sansum Clinic sent letters to 630 of its patients warning a sick worker may have exposed them to tuberculosis.

The letters, signed by Assistant Medical Director Marjorie Newman, explain a staff member at the healthcare provider’s Internal Medicine Department at 215 Pesetas Lane was recently diagnosed with the disease.

Though the risk of exposure is “very minimal,” Newman wrote, patients who visited the department between mid-February and May 21 should be tested. Infection can occur when a person with active TB in their lungs coughs or sneezes and expels bacteria into the air.

Jill Fonte, Sansum’s director of marketing, said the employee infection is not the result of a patient coming into the clinic and affecting staff or patients. “This seems to be an isolated incident of a single worker with his or her own individual illness,” Fonte said in an email. “There is no evidence that there has been any transmission.”

Fonte said Sansum took immediate action as soon as it learned of the positive diagnosis, and the organization has been working closely with the county Public Health Department. No other employees have tested positive, and all screenings are being carried out “in an abundance of caution,” she explained. The costs of the tests are being covered by the clinic. “I’d also like to note that we test our staff annually to protect against potential concerns of this kind,” Fonte said.”

One Sansum patient said she’s quite upset by her potential exposure, explaining an Internal Medicine Department nurse who treated her during a recent visit had a “bad cough” at the time. “She shouldn’t have been seeing patients if she was that ill,” the patient complained. She noted she couldn’t be sure her nurse was the infected employee.

Nevertheless, the patient went on, Sansum has reacted to the situation in a quick and informative manner. “Things like this must happen, and they handled it relatively well,” she said, expressing gratitude that the screenings are paid for and that she didn’t test positive for TB. But, she said, if she had been infected, it would have been up to her and her insurance to cover months of treatment.

Of the 100 or so people who have been screened so far, said Fonte, a few have tested positive for TB. But, she explained, health officials don’t think any of the cases are related to the infected worker. “When testing for TB, you are looking for exposure over one’s entire lifetime,” Fonte said. “Those who have tested positive are elderly and share some similar circumstances.”

In one case identified this Tuesday, a patient had grown up with an infected parent in South America. A person can be infected with latent TB and not feel sick or display symptoms. “That is the kind of thing we have found, and we don’t believe these are related to our employees,” said Fonte. Patients who didn’t receive a letter don’t have to worry about getting tested, she said.


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