Hundreds of Infants and New Moms in California May Have Been Exposed to Tuberculosis

The hospital is reaching out to the people who could have been infected by a maternity ward nurse.

A nurse working in the maternity ward of a California hospital may have exposed more than 1,000 people — including 350 infants — to tuberculosis, according to The New York Times.

The nurse at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, California, reportedly had an active case of tuberculosis, a disease caused by bacteria that usually attack the lungs. The nurse worked "in the area of the newborn nursery" between August and November, the hospital said. She was put on leave once her infection was discovered.

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As many as 1,026 people may have been exposed to the disease, among them 350 infants, 308 employees and 368 parents, most of whom are mothers, the Times reports. Hospital officials are reportedly contacting all of the people who may have been exposed.

"We are committed to the safety of our patients and staff," said Dr. Stephen Harris, chair of pediatrics at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, in a statement. "While the risk of infection is low, the consequences of a tuberculosis infection in infants can be severe. That's why we decided to do widespread testing and start preventative treatments for these infants as soon as possible."

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The infants will be monitored closely for signs of the disease and given preventative daily treatments of an antibiotic that kills tuberculosis. Moms and employees, hospital officials added, will be screened and provided preventative treatment as needed.

This is not the first time a nurse has potentially exposed infants and parents to tuberculosis. Last year, a nurse at a Texas hospital had tuberculosis and came in contact with more than 750 infants. Three years earlier, a newborn in a hospital in Rome contracted tuberculosis from a nurse.

Tuberculosis is spread through the air when a person with the disease in their lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Symptoms include a bad cough that lasts for weeks, chest pain, and bloody phlegm.

Tuberculosis was once the leading cause of death in the United States, but there were just 9,421 cases reported last year, according to the CDC. That's a 1.5 percent decline from cases the previous year. There were 555 deaths caused by tuberculosis in 2013, the most recent year with available data.

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