By Ashley Yarchin
BRIDGETON, Mo. (KSDK) - Fears of a tuberculosis outbreak have spawned a health department investigation into a north St. Louis County business. It follows the death of a worker from the dangerously contagious disease.
TB is spread through the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or transmits saliva. That's why the death of a 43-year-old infected woman, who worked in the credit collections department at Macy's in an industrial park in Bridgeton, led to widespread testing for those who worked and lived close to her.
Relatives said that the woman was ill and coughing for almost one year before she was properly diagnosed. They believe that's the reason she lost her battle with the disease late last month.
TB has similar symptoms to many other respiratory illnesses, which include coughing, shortness of breath, fever, night sweats and fatigue.
"The symptoms, at times, are not nearly as acute or abrupt in onset as many of the pneumonias that we see," explained Dr. David Stoeckel, a pulmonary specialist at St. Louis University Hospital. "They can be very slow to develop and slowly progressive and the patients can learn to accommodate and frankly don't go to the doctor as soon as they should with these sorts of symptoms."
It isn't clear how the woman was infected, but at this time NewsChannel 5 is not aware of any other cases related to hers.
In response to this incident, Macy's spokesman Jim Sluzewski released this statement: "Macy's is naturally concerned when any associate is ill. Our goal is to maintain a workplace that provides a safe and healthy environment for everyone. Currently, we are working under the direction of the St. Louis County Department of Health to test and educate our associates related to Tuberculosis (TB). Beyond this testing and education, we encourage any associate with additional questions to consult their own doctor."
The St. Louis County Health Department released this statement: "Although not common, about 20 to 30 cases of infectious tuberculosis (TB) are identified annually among Saint Louis County residents. The Saint Louis County Department of Health's TB Program works diligently to ensure that persons with tuberculosis receive appropriate treatment and information to prevent further transmission. TB investigations focus on testing persons with close, consistent contact to the original case and may expand depending on initial findings. During the last few months, the department has been investigating a TB case at a business in North County. The department cannot comment on specifics because the Code of State Regulations mandates the confidentiality of such investigations. The department has been working diligently to identify those who may have been exposed and determine whether they have been infected. The health department will continue to monitor the situation until it is satisfied that anyone potentially exposed has been found and tested, and, if necessary, treated."