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Tuberculosis testing for hundreds of children gas began in Omaha after a large group of infants, toddlers and other children was potentially exposed to infection through a drop-in day-care program.
More than 500 children need to be tested within the next week, local health officials said, and younger ones will be given preventive drugs. It’s an unusually large tuberculosis exposure to children, who are more vulnerable to the disease and can become very sick quickly.
More than 500 children may have been exposed at the YMCA daycare.Credit: iStock
“This is an urgent situation,” Justin Frederick, deputy health director in Douglas County, Nebraska, said. The health department was preparing to declare a public health emergency.
Tuberculosis, which can be fatal, can cause meningitis in children and affect organs outside the respiratory system. Such severe illness can generally be prevented by early treatment but can develop rapidly in infants and toddlers, Douglas County Health Director Lindsay Huse said, leading local health officials and Children’s Nebraska pediatric hospital to move quickly to administer testing over the weekend.
“The important thing is keeping the really severe illness from developing in the younger children,” Huse said. “We wanted to ensure we were able to get kiddos in as soon as humanly possible.”
The children were potentially exposed at a YMCA daycare program where parents can leave kids while using the gym or facilities. Because people can have symptoms for weeks without realising they are seriously ill, health officials alerted everyone who came into contact with the patient from May through October. The two factors created a large pool of potential exposure.
Health officials should have a clear picture of whether children were infected – and whether more people need to be tested – by the week of November 20, when all tests results should be complete, Huse said. Results for the younger children should be known by Tuesday or Wednesday. If others were sick, such a scenario could balloon into a larger number of people exposed.
People get tuberculosis in the United States every year – 8300 cases were reported in 2022 – but health officials in Nebraska said the exposure was out of the ordinary for its scope and threat to children.
“It’s really critical that we move rapidly,” Frederick told reporters after a public meeting with parents Thursday. “If this was a situation with a lot of adults, we would probably be handling this a little bit differently; we’d have a little bit more time. Knowing that it’s children … we’re taking it very seriously.”
The United States has worked toward eliminating tuberculosis and no longer vaccinates people against it, but it remains in circulation. The number of reported cases dropped during the height of the pandemic but rose again last year.
Symptoms include a long-running cough, chest pain, fatigue, fever and night sweats. Tuberculosis is transmitted through coughing, sneezing, speaking and singing. It isn’t passed through surfaces, handshakes or sharing drinks or food, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s not as easy to catch as the coronavirus or a cold, Huse said, but people can contract it by spending time in an enclosed space with someone contagious.
The patient is doing well, isolating and being monitored during treatment, health officials said. They did not say whether the person was a child or an adult. Their symptoms began in late August, but the person wasn’t tested for TB until this week.
The county health department learned about the confirmed case Tuesday and began working with the YMCA to comb attendance records and notify families of potential exposure. Most families have been reached by the health department, Huse said, and none has reported concerning symptoms indicative of possible infections so far.
The Washington Post
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