Tuberculosis testing of hundreds of children in Omaha began Saturday, after a large group of infants, toddlers and children were potentially exposed to the infection in a program walk-in daycare.

More than 500 children are to be tested over the next week, local health authorities said, and the youngest will be given preventative medication. This is an unusually high exposure to TB in children, who are more vulnerable to the disease and can become very ill quickly.

“This is an urgent situation,” Justin Frederick, deputy health director for Douglas County, Neb., said this week. The Department of Health 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 a serious illness can usually be prevented with early treatment but can develop quickly in infants and toddlers, Douglas County Health Director Lindsay Huse told the Washington Post, prompting local health officials and Children’s Nebraska Pediatric Hospital to relocate. quickly to administer the tests over the weekend.

“The important thing is to prevent very serious disease from developing in young children,” Huse said Saturday. “We wanted to make sure we could accommodate the children as quickly as possible.”

Children were potentially exposed at a YMCA daycare where parents can leave their children while they use the gym or facilities. Because people can have symptoms for weeks without realizing they are seriously ill, health authorities alerted everyone who had contact with the patient from May to October. These two factors created a large pool of potential exposure.

Health officials should be clear on whether any children have been infected — and whether more people need to be tested — by the week of Nov. 20, when all test results should be complete, Huse said. The results for the youngest should be known by Tuesday or Wednesday. If other people were sick, such a scenario could result in more people being exposed.

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People in the United States contract tuberculosis every year — 8,300 cases were reported in 2022 — but Nebraska health officials said the exposure was out of the ordinary because of its magnitude and the threat it poses. she represents for children.

“It’s really critical that we act quickly,” Frederick told reporters after a public meeting with parents Thursday. “If this were a situation involving a lot of adults, we would probably handle the situation a little differently; we would have a little more time. Knowing that these are children…we take this very seriously.

The United States has worked to eliminate tuberculosis and no longer vaccinates the population against the disease, but it remains in circulation. The number of reported cases declined at the height of the pandemic, but increased again last year.

Symptoms include prolonged cough, chest pain, fatigue, fever and night sweats. Tuberculosis is spread by coughing, sneezing, talking and singing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it does not pass through surfaces, shaking hands, or sharing drinks or food.

It’s not as easy to catch as covid or a cold, Huse said, but people can contract it by spending time in an enclosed space with a contagious person.

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As many as 13 million Americans may have latent TB, meaning they have inactive TB without disease but could eventually develop active disease. The person who tested positive in Nebraska may have developed the disease that way, Huse said; public health officials are still investigating the case.

The patient is doing well, is isolated and is being monitored during treatment, health officials said. They did not specify whether it was a child or an adult. The symptoms started in late August, but the person was not tested for tuberculosis until this week.

The county health department became aware of the confirmed case Tuesday and began working with the YMCA to review attendance records and notify families of potential exposure. Most families have been contacted by the health department, Huse said, and so far none have reported symptoms indicating possible infections.

“We are casting a wide net and making sure we test anyone who may have been exposed,” Huse said.

Children 4 and younger who were exposed in the past 10 weeks were tested at Children’s Hospital over the weekend and received treatment to prevent them from developing tuberculosis, Frederick said. Children over 5 years old or who were exposed more than 10 weeks ago will be offered testing at a county clinic Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Huse estimated there were about 250 children in the first group and 300 in the second. Children who have been exposed in the past 10 weeks will also need to be tested a second time 10 weeks after their first test, she said.

Huse said health officials are hoping for negative test results but are prepared to treat cases if they arise.

“It could definitely grow.” We are cautiously optimistic that we will not be there yet,” she said.

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