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Updated Tuesday, November 6, 2012 at 08:16 PM

Patients treated at Swedish cancer clinic told to get TB test

By Carol M. Ostrom
Seattle Times health reporter

Swedish Medical Center has notified about 250 potentially immune-compromised patients treated at its Swedish Cancer Institute on First Hill that they may have been exposed to a case of active tuberculosis (TB).

Swedish has set up a free temporary TB Screening Clinic in the Arnold Pavilion in Seattle for those patients, as well as anyone who accompanied them to appointments.

The patient with active TB, who had no symptoms and was undiagnosed at that time, received care at the First Hill institute site between June 14 and September 20, Swedish said.

TB can be spread through the air, although studies show that even with prolonged exposure, others are unlikely to be infected.

However, Dr. Justin Jin, a Swedish-affiliated infectious-disease specialist, noted that the immune-compromised patients seen at Swedish Cancer Institute (SCI) have higher risk. "That's why we're taking this extremely seriously and identifying people at risk," he said.

Swedish, in its letter to patients, strongly recommended TB tests for SCI patients at First Hill who spent time in a waiting room, laboratory or infusion suite, where they could have been exposed to the infected patient.

In addition, Swedish has notified another 4,000 people who were treated on other floors of SCI/First Hill, although Jin said those patients were at "extremely low risk."

Will Shelton, Swedish's director of Epidemiology and Employee Health, said employees at the cancer institute also will be tested.

The case follows a TB outbreak in Snohomish County.

A strain there, circulating in the community for at least two years, appears to have been implicated in two deaths, one in 2010 and one this year, and the illness of a third man, who is hospitalized.

Snohomish County Health District has screened 82 clients and staff at Compass Health, a nonprofit social-service agency that provides mental-health and chemical-dependency services in Snohomish and other counties.

Nine people associated with the center, including a staff member, have tested positive for latent tuberculosis. Two other people are actively sick with TB, said the health agency.

"We are concerned that the first local cases of tuberculosis were not diagnosed until people were very sick with the disease," said Joseph Aharchi, manager of the health district's tuberculosis-control program.

The health district has sent notices to all hospital ERs and specialists in the county reminding them to be on the lookout for TB symptoms, particularly in people who are homeless, injection-drug users or who have HIV.

Carol M. Ostrom: 206-464-2249 or costrom@seattletimes.com.

TB alert

Patients seen at Swedish Cancer Institute on First Hill between June 14 and Sept. 20 should be tested for TB, as should anyone who accompanied them to appointments.

To schedule an appointment for a TB screening, call 206-386-3232 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

More information: swedish.org/TB


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