The Baltimore Fire Department was suddenly notified earlier this week of a tuberculosis (TB) spill at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. A research department within the facility was using a sample of tuberculosis in a frozen form that was accidentally dropped along an internal bridge that spans two buildings. Dozens of emergency personnel responded to the scene and quickly evacuated both buildings. There were reportedly employees in the vicinity at the time, which heightened the concern of dangerous exposure.
Dr. Landon King spoke on behalf of the hospital. He explained that it was determined that “there is no risk” and that the small quantity was equivalent to “a few drops.” Roughly four hours later the scene was deemed to be safe by officials.
The two buildings that were evacuated are primarily used for research purposes; therefore, no patients were believed to have been potentially exposed. The fire department was initially concerned that the sample could have entered the building's heating and/or air conditioning system and potentially be spread to other areas.
DaJuan Robinson, who works at the site, says that employees received a text message alert notifying them of the incident. Marcy Omondi, an employee on the scene, says that safety measures prevented her from re-entering one of the buildings as she returned from a lunch break. Fortunately, the situation was deemed as stable within a few hours.
The Center for Disease Control estimates that TB caused 1.7 million fatalities worldwide in 2016. In the U.S., cases are much less common than in other parts of the world, as approximately 9,200 were reported. TB is a disease that is caused by bacteria that travels through the air. It may enter the lungs and then be transmitted throughout the body.
Those infected often have a persistent cough that will last for weeks, experience notable weight loss, have a fever, and feel fatigued. It can be treated using medications; however, the treatment regimen may be required for a period of several months. Some of those exposed may carry the bacteria within their body but not actually show any symptoms.
People who are latent carries of the disease may:
- Not actually show symptoms of TB
- Not experienced feelings of illness
- Be unable to spread the bacteria to others
- Appear as positive when tested
- Eventually develop the symptoms if they are not properly treated
- Never actually develop the symptoms of TB
Those at Greatest Risk
There are certain characteristics among people that may make them more susceptible to contracting TB. People with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV or those whose bodies are fighting other ailments are likely at risk. Babies and small children may be increasingly at risk. Those who use intravenous drugs and the elderly are also more likely to develop TB.
Often people are infected by someone who they spend considerable time with such as friends, family members, co-workers, etc. TB is particularly dangerous when someone carrying the disease enters a hospital or long-term care facility. Those in these institutional settings are more likely to have already weakened immune systems.