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Sanford Doctor Diagnosed with Tuberculosis

A Sanford doctor was recently diagnosed with active tuberculosis, or TB. While the risk for infection is low, Sanford Health is proactively partnering with the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) to ensure the safety of our patients, employees and the public.

Andrea Voorhees
Sanford Media Specialist – Fargo Region
(701) 200-6080 /


(Fargo, ND) – A Sanford doctor was recently diagnosed with active tuberculosis, or TB. While the risk for infection is low, Sanford Health is proactively partnering with the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) to ensure the safety of our patients, employees and the public.

77 patients and 43 employees may have been exposed to TB between July 1 and August 16, 2010. We are in the process of contacting employees and making personal phone calls to all patients who may have been exposed. We hope to have contacted everyone within 72 hours. Sanford will offer evaluations and testing to these individuals free-of-charge. Patient and employee testing will continue as needed. The NDDoH is contacting members of the public that may have been exposed.

According the NDDoH, our clinical testing and other medical expert consults, the risk for exposure to TB is low, but to be safe we are working closely with NDDoH to ensure those who may have been exposed get tested.

Important points to remember: It is safe for patients to have their appointments. TB is not treated as a medical emergency. A very small number of people exposed actually get active TB. At the time this person was tested there was no indication they had active TB.

TB is an airborne disease, which means that it is spread through the air from one person to another. When a person with TB coughs, or sneezes, people nearby can breathe TB germs into their lungs. It's important to understand that you can only get infected by breathing in TB germs, NOT from someone's clothes, drinking glass, eating utensils, handshake, toilet, or other surfaces where a TB patient has been. Only those with active TB can spread the disease.

Additional facts about TB:

What is tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis (TB) is an infection caused by slow-growing bacteria that grow best in areas of the body that have lots of blood and oxygen. That's why it is most often found in the lungs. This is called pulmonary TB. But TB can also spread to other parts of the body, which is called extrapulmonary TB. Treatment is often a success, but it is a long process. It takes about 6 to 9 months to treat TB.

Tuberculosis is either latent or active.

Latent TB means that you have the TB bacteria in your body, but your body's defenses (immune system) are keeping it from turning into active TB. This means that you don't have any symptoms of TB right now and can't spread the disease to others. If you have latent TB, it can become active TB.
Active TB means that the TB bacteria are growing and causing symptoms. If your lungs are infected with active TB, it is easy to spread the disease to others.

How is TB spread to others?
Pulmonary TB (in the lungs) is contagious. It spreads when a person who has active TB breathes out air that has the TB bacteria in it and then another person breathes in the bacteria from the air. An infected person releases even more bacteria when he or she does things like cough or laugh.
If TB is only in other parts of the body (extrapulmonary TB), it does not spread easily to others.

Who is most at risk for TB?
Some people are more likely than others to get TB. This includes people who:
• Have HIV or another illness that weakens their immune system.
• Have close contact with someone who has active TB, such as living in the same house as someone who is infected with TB.
• Care for a patient who has active TB, such as doctors or nurses prior to isolation.
• Live or work in crowded places such as prisons, nursing homes, or homeless shelters, where other people may have active TB.
• Have poor access to health care, such as homeless people and migrant farm workers.
• Abuse drugs or alcohol.
• Travel to or were born in places where untreated TB is common, such as Latin America, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Russia.

It is important for people who are at a high risk for getting TB to get tested once or twice every year.

What are the symptoms?
Most of the time when people are first infected with TB, the disease is so mild that they don't even know they have it. People with latent TB don't have symptoms unless the disease becomes active.

Symptoms of active TB may include:
• A cough that brings up thick, cloudy, and sometimes bloody mucus from the lungs (called sputum) for more than 2 weeks.
• Tiredness and weight loss.
• Night sweats and a fever.
• A rapid heartbeat.
• Shortness of breath and chest pain (in rare cases).

How is TB diagnosed?
Doctors usually find latent TB by doing a tuberculin skin test. During the skin test, a doctor or nurse will inject TB antigens under your skin. If you have TB bacteria in your body, within 2 days you will get a red bump where the needle went into your skin. The test can't tell when you became infected with TB or if it can be spread to others.

To find pulmonary TB, doctors test a sample of mucus from the lungs (sputum) to see if there are TB bacteria in it. Doctors sometimes take a chest X-ray to help find pulmonary TB.

How is it treated?
Most of the time, doctors combine four antibiotics to treat active TB. It's important to take the medicine for active TB for at least 6 months. Almost all people are cured if they take their medicine just like their doctors say to take it. If tests still show an active TB infection after 6 months, then treatment continues for another 2 or 3 months.

Most people with latent TB are treated with only one antibiotic that they take for 9 months. This is highly effective in reducing their risk for getting active TB.