700 babies at risk of TB from Texas hospital

More than 700 newborns and 40 staff at a Texas hospital may have been exposed to a worker who had an active case of the potentially deadly tuberculosis, health officials said last week.

The employee, working in a nursery at Providence Memorial Hospital in El Paso, interacted with patients for months before later being diagnosed with the disease, the El Paso Department of Public Health said.

A total of 706 babies and 43 employees were possibly exposed to the infected worker between September 2013 and August 2014, the health department said.

Health and hospital officials were contacting the affected families, who will get screening and follow-up care free of charge.

Robert Rensendes, public health director for the city of El Paso Department of Public Health, spoke at a press conference Friday to make the announcement that babies and staff may have been exposed to an employee who tested positive for active tuberculosis.

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"TB is a serious but treatable disease that is spread through the air,'  the health department said in a letter to parents.

"Although TB is not easy to catch from another person, we want to be extra sure that your child is examined,"

Tuberculosis, a potentially fatal disease that generally affects the lungs, can lay dormant in a person's body for months or years.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it is spread when a person with an active case coughs, sneezes, or speaks.

Babies and people with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to becoming infected. - Reuters