Published Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013 | 11:51 a.m.
Updated Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013 | 1:09 p.m.
Health officials urged tuberculosis testing for hundreds of babies, family members and staff who were at a Las Vegas neonatal intensive care unit this past summer, saying they want to take extra precautions after the death of a mother and her twin babies and the infection of more than 26 people.
Authorities with the Southern Nevada Health District said Tuesday that they're working to contact parents of about 140 babies who were at Summerlin Hospital Medical Center's NICU unit between mid-May and mid-August, and have set up a temporary clinic to test them.
Tests of hospital staff and friends and family of the mother have revealed 26 TB infections, although most of those cases are latent — meaning patients don't show symptoms and aren't contagious. All 26 are being treated, according to health district spokeswoman Stephanie Bethel.
It's unlikely that the babies who may have been exposed will come down with the disease, according to Dr. Joe Iser, the health district's chief medical officer, but officials want to do widespread testing "through an abundance of caution."
"It's safer to expand the investigation," Iser said.
Health officials said the infection apparently started with a 25-year-old mother who gave birth to extremely premature babies in the Las Vegas area in early May. One baby, 3-week-old Emma White, died June 1 of respiratory failure and extreme prematurity, according to the Clark County coroner.
She was never tested for TB.
The mother, who had been sick before and after the birth, was eventually admitted to a Las Vegas hospital, and later transferred to a Southern California hospital "for a higher level of care," according to an Aug. 22 report from the health district. The mother died in California and her name was unavailable. An autopsy showed she had tuberculosis meningitis.
The second baby, Abigail White, was tested for TB and treated, but she succumbed to the disease at Summerlin Hospital on Aug. 1.
Families who had babies in the NICU were first informed of the investigation in August, but it wasn't until this week that the health district has urged them to get tested.
Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assisted with the probe up until last week, Bethel said. It wasn't immediately clear whether their investigation has been affected by the government shutdown.
TB can be fatal if not properly treated. The CDC counted 569 TB deaths in the U.S. in 2010, the most recent year for which data is available.
The illness is spread through the air when a sick person coughs, sneezes or speaks. Symptoms include coughing, chest pain, fever and fatigue.
The number of U.S. TB cases has been on a steady decline since a resurgence in 1992, and in 2012 reached the lowest level since national reporting began in 1953.