Public health officials are testing more than 500 children and staff members who might have been exposed to tuberculosis at an Omaha drop-in day care center connected to a gym.
Douglas County health director Lindsay Huse declared a public health emergency over concern that the infectious disease could spread among those using the Westview YMCA, according to USA Today. She said exposure would have happened between May and late October — a long range because the incubation period for tuberculosis is two to 10 weeks.
Officials have not said if the patient is a child or adult, but noted that the individual is being treated at home. The patient tested positive on Monday and a contact investigation began, which led to the center, where gym members drop off their children for up to two hours.
Huse told USA Today that an active TB case is not unusual. But the size of this exposure is.
The Douglas County Health Department managed 15 confirmed cases in 2022 and had 15 cases through September this year, according to its news release, which also said the CDC reported more than 8,000 cases in the U.S. so far this year.
WOWT television in Omaha reported that parents were notified by email last Wednesday about a possible exposure at the Westview YMCA ChildWatch.
“The Douglas County Health Department is investigating the patient’s activities while they were contagious to learn of potential exposures, helping the patient isolate, and observing them complete their medication until they test negative for TB,” the health department said in an advisory to area health care providers. It added the department also “is working to notify parents of children and anyone else who had close contact with the patient. Testing for tuberculosis is only recommended for those who had close contact on one or more occasions.”
Tuberculosis is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It usually attacks the lungs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but it can attack any part of the body, including the kidney, spine and brain. Not everyone with the infection becomes sick, leading to two different conditions: latent TB and TB disease. Left untreated, TB can kill.
TB spreads through the air from person to person when someone who has the disease in their lungs coughs, speaks or even sings. People nearby can breathe in the bacteria and become infected, per CDC.
It is not spread by shaking someone’s hand, sharing food or drink, touching objects like bed linens or door handles, sharing toothbrushes or kissing. It is spread by breathing in the bacteria from an infected person’s lungs. The bacteria settles in the lungs and can grow, then spread through the blood to attack other parts of the body. But the TB in other parts of the body is not infectious.
CDC says symptoms depend on where the bacteria grow. In the lungs, the result can be a bad cough that persists three weeks or more, chest pain and coughing up blood or phlegm.
Other symptoms include weakness or fatigue, weight loss, no appetite, chills, fever and night sweats, CDC says.
People with latent TB don’t feel sick, have no symptoms and cannot spread TB.