Children’s Memorial Hospital, Chicago

Tuberculosis a Concern in Three Chicago Hospitals After Sick Doc Diagnosed

April 13, 2009 12:06 PM
by Emily Coakley
News that a resident infected with tuberculosis worked with hundreds of patients could be indicative of a larger problem within the medical field.

No Patients Have Been Diagnosed With TB So Far

Health officials in Chicago are testing patients treated by a medical student who has been diagnosed with tuberculosis, a diseases that attacks the lungs, according to the Chicago Tribune. The Northwestern University student is a pediatric resident who worked at three hospitals in the city.

The resident worked mostly at Children’s Memorial Hospital, where the Tribune said she “was in contact with at least 150 children and more than 300 workers.” The hospital has already tested many employees as part of routine TB testing, and so far no one has tested positive.

Hospital officials have also tested some of the patients the resident had contact with, and no one has tested positive as of yet. According to ABC News, some patients received antibiotics as a precaution.

The patients the resident worked with included dozens of babies and 17 newborns. A pediatrics infectious disease expert told ABC News that it’s not that babies are more likely to get TB, but it’s more dangerous if they do.

“Often they will go right from infection to TB throughout the body, including meningitis, which can be very dangerous,” James McAuley told ABC News.

Every patient and employee the resident came into contact with at the hospitals has been notified.

The resident was screened for TB when she started her rotations in July, but was negative. The disease can often stay dormant in a person’s body for months or even years. It’s possible she was exposed to TB while working in Africa, ABC News said.

Doctors told ABC News, “She may not have realized just how sick she was until the more severe symptoms, such as weight loss, weakness, chills and fever, set in.”

The situation in Chicago is reminiscent of a larger issue in healthcare: doctors not staying home when sick.

In August 2003 the Daily Mail reported on a study that young doctors, especially, worked while sick. A 2001 survey of doctors in a London hospital was compared to a similar survey done in 1993.

“Overall the proportion of doctors choosing to work through illness fell between the two surveys, but still almost two-thirds were still not taking sick leave,” the paper reported.

Doctors came to work sick for coworkers.

“The main reason for not taking sick leave was the extra work it would mean for colleagues, cited by 68 per cent in 2001 compared to 72 per cent in 1993,” the paper reported.

Last month, a column in Slate said doctors working while sick is the norm, and that a popular phrase among surgeons is, “‘We’re rounding with you, or we’re rounding on you’—if you’re missing work, you better be so sick that you’re admitted to the hospital.”

Some hospitals don’t give residents many sick days, and doctors staying home often feel badly that a colleague has to cover for them, the authors said.

While they pointed out that people in all fields go to work sick, the authors suggested the doctors be required to get flu shots, citing a statistic that “just 42 percent of health care workers got vaccinated during the 2005-06 flu season.”

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Related Topic: Tuberculosis in the United States

Though Americans are contracting tuberculosis less and less, cases among immigrants have increased, according to findingDulcinea.

In California last year, a rare strain of tuberculosis was found among Hispanic immigrants. The Mycobacterium bovis tuberculosis strain, found in cows, was traced to immigrants using non-pasteurized milk products to make cheese. The disease had been “essentially purged from the United States in the 1900s,” according to findingDulcinea. The non-pasteurized milk came from cattle in Mexico.

The news about the medical resident followed an announcement last month that new tuberculosis cases in Chicago had “dropped to an all-time low,” according to Chi-Town Daily News. Like the trend findingDulcinea reported, health officials in Chicago found that “more than half of new cases are coming from the city’s immigrant community, suggesting many people bring the disease,” when they come to America.

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