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Hospital blamed for tuberculosis outbreak

A recent occurrence in the neonatal unit of a hospital should put New Jersey hospitals on alert. When a young mother gave birth to premature twins in May 2013, a Las Vegas hospital allegedly failed to diagnose a contagious lung disease that the woman had, allowing her to continue visiting her babies in the hospital after being discharged. According to state health officials, this led to an outbreak of tuberculosis that has affected dozens of people, some fatally.

After performing an inspection, one of the state's health care bureaus determined that proper steps were not taken to contain the infection, according to reports. The 25-year-old mother died in July, according to autopsy reports, along with both of her babies. Following their deaths, investigators determined that 26 people had been infected by November, including family members of the mother and hospital staff. By Dec. 23, 33 more people had been diagnosed.

Tuberculosis, the symptoms of which include fatigue, fever, chest pain and coughing, can be spread through the air when an infected person talks, coughs or sneezes. The potentially fatal disease usually affects the lungs, although it can attack other parts of the body. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than 550 tuberculosis deaths in the US in 2010.

When patients are admitted to a hospital, a high level of care is expected from hospital staff. If proper precautions are not taken to diagnose infections and prevent contamination, infected patients or their surviving family members might choose to file legal claims in order to hold that hospital responsible. Such claims might cite negligence on the part of the medical staff.

Source: CBS News, "59 test positive for tuberculosis after outbreak at Las Vegas neonatal unit", December 23, 2013

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Alan D. Bell
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