Correction: Tuberculosis Exposure-Texas-Q&A story

AP News
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Posted: Oct 07, 2014 2:09 PM

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — In a story Oct. 1 about a tuberculosis outbreak linked to a Texas hospital, The Associated Press erroneously referred to tuberculosis as a virus. It is caused by a bacterium.

A corrected version of the story is below:

Questions about tuberculosis after infants exposed

Questions about tuberculosis after nursing assistant exposes hundreds of infants in Texas

By JUAN CARLOS LLORCA

Associated Press

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — Authorities say more than 850 infants may have been exposed to tuberculosis in an El Paso hospital by a nursing assistant who was diagnosed with the illness. Although cases of TB are at an all-time low in the U.S., the disease can be fatal if untreated, and is especially dangerous for small children and babies.

Here's an overview of the disease, its symptoms, rates of infection and treatment:

Q: What is tuberculosis?

A: Tuberculosis, or TB, is caused by bacteria that usually target the lungs but can also damage the brain, kidneys, spine or other parts of the body. Infants and small children and people with compromised immune systems are more likely than adults to develop the more deadly forms of TB because their immune systems are weaker.

But the bacteria can remain dormant in the body for months or even years, in a form called latent TB. Only about 5 percent to 10 percent of people with latent TB will develop active cases, even without treatment. Active TB develops when enough of the bacteria build up in the body or a person's immune system is compromised by another disease.

People with latent TB have the bacteria in their bodies but don't become sick and are unable to transmit it. About 4 percent of people in the U.S. have latent TB, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Q: How is TB transmitted?

A: People with active TB, which travels through the air, can transmit the bacteria when they cough, sneeze or even speak. TB is unique because it remains airborne for prolonged periods of time, unlike the flu virus, which travels in droplets of fluid expelled from the body, according to David Dowdy, an epidemiology professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

But the illness is hard to catch. Dowdy noted that it can only be spread by someone with active TB. Lee B. Richman, founder of the New Jersey Medical School Global Tuberculosis Institute in Newark, said TB also requires prolonged exposure.

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Q: What are the symptoms and how is TB treated?

A: Symptoms of active TB include muscle weakness and general sickness, weight loss, fever and night sweats. TB also usually includes coughing, chest pain or coughing up blood.

People infected with TB are given a four-drug treatment over 6 to 12 months. People who stop treatment or don't take the medication as prescribed may become sick again and cause the bacteria to become resistant to the drugs, creating a far more deadly microbe that is much harder to treat.

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Q: How prevalent is TB in the U.S.?

A: Last year, nearly 9,600 cases of active TB were reported in the U.S., and about 65 percent of those cases were among people born outside the U.S., according to the CDC. Most people living in the U.S. and areas with access to good health care will not die from TB if treated, though drug-resistant TB is more deadly.