Mexican officials say more babies possibly exposed to tuberculosis at El Paso Hospital

By Lorena Figueroa / El Paso Times
POSTED: 10/02/2014 11:16:36 PM MDT

JUÁREZ >> Mexican health officials Thursday said 86 babies from Mexico might have been exposed to tuberculosis at an El Paso hospital — more than three times what has been reported by hospital officials.

Dr. Hugo Staines Orozco, general director of the Juárez Health Department, said the state health department has notified the Mexican government that 86 babies might have been exposed to a TB-infected patient care technician who worked with newborns at Providence Memorial Hospital between Sept. 1, 2013, to Aug. 16.

El Paso health authorities have said that Providence initially reported to them that 27 of the more than 850 babies possibly exposed during that time were from Mexico.

Of the Mexican infants identified, 45 are from Juárez, Staines Orozco said. He said another 24 infants are from Chihuahua City and the remainder are from 13 other Mexican cities. The data came from the Texas Department of Health and Human Services, Staines Orozco said.

When asked about the discrepancy in the numbers, El Paso health officials said some families might have given two addresses and that the number of potentially exposed babies could fluctuate as the investigation continues.

"We have not concluded our investigation to say exactly how many babies from Mexico were delivered and exposed at Providence," said Armando Saldívar, spokesman for the El Paso Department of Public Health. He said Providence provided the city the initial statistics.

Saldivar said parents of Mexican babies might have given the hospital an address from the U.S., Mexico or from both countries.

Staines Orozco said that as of this week, the parents of only 15 children from Juárez have made an appointment with the El Paso Department of Health to be tested. Five of those babies have completed the screenings, he added.

Three of the infants who were screened tested positive for latent tuberculosis, but that might have been a false reading because of past vaccinations, said Héctor Puertas Rincones, a director in the Chihuahua Health Services.

The three infants were vaccinated with Bacillus Calmette-Guerin, which might result in a false reading for tuberculosis, Puertas Rincones said.

He said all of the children who test positive for active or latent tuberculosis are going to be monitored and checked each month for at least six months at the Juárez Children's Hospital.

The El Paso health department reported that as of Thursday, the families of 79 percent of the patients in Mexico have been contacted but still lists only 27 patients as being from Mexico.

Mexican health officials said they are in constant communication with the state health department to get daily updates on the number of Mexican babies tested and the number of families reached.

They said that beginning next week, health officials will contact the families living in Chihuahua and other Mexican states who do not respond to the notification letter sent from the U.S. health authorities.

Puertas Rincones said the state health agency has the names, addresses and telephone numbers to reach parents and the resources to test the babies in Mexico in case they cannot travel to El Paso.

Health officials said the screenings consist of an X-ray, a skin test and a culture test.

The cost of the screenings, doctor's visits and needed treatment will be absorbed by the Chihuahua state government and later charged to Providence, they said.

"We are worried about the situation ... but we are not on alert because we have identified the patients, we know what type of bacteria it is and what type of medication is needed to treat it," Staines Orozco said.

The discussion arose when asked about the TB exposure by the El Paso Times during a news conference Thursday about Mexico's Third National Health Week, which kicks off in Juárez today.

Mexican health authorities said tuberculosis is still a health issue on the El Paso-Juárez border, but has been under control because of strong collaborations and binational programs implemented by U.S. and Mexican health agencies.

Puertas Rincones said that there were 315 TB-infected patients in Juárez in 2013 who were treated and are being monitored.
Lorena Figueroa may be reached at 546-6129.

Anchor babies or Mexicans getting free healthcare and birth certificates? Or both?