SNHD: Dozens of kids need tuberculosis treatment despite negative tests

Jacqui Heinrich

Photo: Video by ktnv.com

SNHD: Dozens of kids need tuberculosis treatment despite negative tests

CREATED Dec. 11, 2013

Summerlin, NV (KTNV) -- 140 families are facing a life-changing decision after the Southern Nevada Health District said their children need to be treated for tuberculosis, even though they've tested negative for the disease.

The recommendation from the health district came after health officials alerted 140 families they were possibly exposed to tuberculosis at Summerlin Hospital's NICU Level 3 ward this past summer.

State health officials said Summerlin Hospital failed to contain the germ while treating a 26-year-old woman and her twin babies, all who later died.

For the families now being told their kids need treatment, it's a catch-22; the aggressive drug therapy can have terrible side effects, but if they forego treatment they risk losing their child to tuberculosis. Parents said it's a tough decision especially because their children have tested negative for the disease.

"Fear. A lot of fear," said mother April Bubel of the weighty decision she's now faced with. April Bubel and her husband Mark said the choice runs the risk of hurting their son, no matter which way they decide.

Health district officials believe their baby, Brendan, may have been exposed to tuberculosis when he was treated for an infection at Summerlin Hospital's Level 3 NICU ward this past May; the same time the 26-year-old mom was being treated alongside her premature twins.

Documents from the State Bureau of Health Care Quality and Compliance show Summerlin Hospital failed to follow infection control guidelines when they let the sick mother tend to her babies in the NICU ward while running a 103 degree fever, all the while undiagnosed for the disease.

Now the Bubel family and 139 other families are facing the same dilemma: Get their baby treated and risk the side effects, or forego treatment and hope for the best.

So far Brendan has tested negative for TB, but nonetheless health district officials are imploring the family to undergo intensive drug therapy. "Tests are not accurate in infants of that age, so that's why we're recommending that," said Dr. Joe Iser, Chief Health Officer for the Southern Nevada Health District.

"Putting someone on antibiotics for 9 months, especially so young, is a big decision," April Bubel told Action News.

It's a decision Bubel feels could be harmful to her infant son, who already has a weakened immune system.

Health district officials agree treatment can be dangerous for adults, but believe it won't harm the kids. "A significant proportion come down with side effects, but we don't see that as much in babies. Their livers are in much better shape than yours or mine might be," Dr. Iser told Action News.

"That's a lot of weight, plus every time he coughs now, we freak out," Mark Bubel said.

Health district officials said TB testing at such a young age is unreliable, and some babies don't even show symptoms if they have it, which is why they're recommending widespread treatment as a precaution.

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