A female health-care worker at Lexington's UK HealthCare Good Samaritan Hospital who was also a student at Eastern Kentucky University has been undergoing treatment for a confirmed case of tuberculosis since mid-October.
As a result, at least 50 people in Madison County and 82 Good Samaritan employees have undergone testing for the disease.
The total number of people who've had contact with the health-care worker is not yet known. Officials at UK HealthCare and the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department are still compiling a list of possible contacts.
"Officials at UK Good Samaritan Hospital have been working to identify and contact staff and patients who may have been exposed to an employee recently diagnosed with tuberculosis," University of Kentucky spokeswoman Kristi Lopez said in a statement.
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Doug Whitlock, president of EKU, said in a memo to the university community the woman, who lives in Lexington, is no longer a student at Eastern.
Good Samaritan has a daily patient population of about 130, said Dr. Chris Nelson, UK HealthCare's medical director for infection and control.
"No one who's casually visited the hospital should be concerned," he said.
The risk of tuberculosis illness is minimal, Nelson said. "Only in a rare case do you actually become sick when you're infected," he said.
More commonly, the disease is either not transmitted or lies dormant until a trigger such as another illness turns it into active tuberculosis. When the disease is dormant, it can be treated so that the patient's lifetime risk of active tuberculosis is greatly reduced.
Officials have decided to notify patients who were admitted or treated on the fifth or sixth floors of the hospital on days the female employee worked from June 1 to Oct. 13. Those who receive notification are urged to follow up with their local health department if they have compromised immune systems or symptoms such as persistent cough, fever and chest pains.
UK HealthCare has established a toll-free number at 800-207-1268 for questions or concerns from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. After 6 p.m., call (859) 323-0077.
Tuberculosis, usually referred to as TB, is an infectious disease caused by bacteria that usually attack the lungs and is spread when a person with TB coughs and the resulting droplets are inhaled by another person.
People with active cases of TB are usually isolated for at least two months or until a sputum test reveals they are no longer contagious. Treatment, which can include a spectrum of drugs, is usually delivered to the patient at home and lasts for six to nine months.
Those who are known to have had close contact with the TB patient have been contacted by health departments and urged to have a TB skin test. If the test shows latent TB, individuals are urged to undergo the drug regimen even if they don't have symptoms.
Jessica DuMaurier, director of epidemiology for Lexington health department, said that children and people with HIV or a weakened immune system are at increased risk for the disease.
"It takes being in close contact with someone," she said. "... We consider the kind of exposure they had. We immediately want to look at their household contacts, then we move out in a concentric circle ... that would be co-workers, friends, people they would have some kind of casual exposure to."
Christie Green, a public relations officer at the Madison County Health Department, said that in some years the department sees only a single case of TB and rarely more than five. Kevin Hall, a spokesman for the Lexington health department, said fewer than a dozen cases a year are typical in Lexington.