ST. PETERSBURG — All Children's Hospital on Tuesday began contacting about a dozen families whose children were exposed to an outpatient therapist who died Monday. The longtime employee had a bloodstream infection that can lead to meningitis.
Hospital officials said preliminary cultures suggest the employee had a bacterial infection that is often fatal, even before it crosses from the bloodstream to cause inflammation in the brain and spinal cord.
To prevent an outbreak, they are offering antibiotic therapy to exposed patients and family members who may have come into contact with the employee, who had not been scheduled to work for the past week. All Children's didn't know she was sick until she called in Monday — hours before her death — to say she thought she had the flu.
The infection she appears to have had is far less contagious than the common cold. It is transmitted by direct contact — kissing, sharing drinking glasses or coughing near another person. So the number of patients possibly exposed was limited, hospital officials stressed.
"As a therapist, she would have been touching patients," said Dr. Juan Dumois, director of pediatric infectious diseases at the hospital, noting that those at greatest risk for contagion were the therapist's immediate family.
"I'm less concerned about the patients, but we can't say the patient risk is zero and that's why we're going through all this effort," he said.
Hospital officials are identifying other staffers who came in close contact with the therapist to offer them antibiotics, too.
But these employees are not considered a risk to spread the disease, Dumois said. He noted that antibiotic treatment is effective at stopping the spread of the bacteria — and relatively harmless for the recipient. Children get two days of the drug Rifampin. Most adults need only a single dose of Cipro, best known as the anthrax treatment.
All Children's spokeswoman Ann Miller said the families of the exposed patients can expect to receive a call or voice mail message.
She declined to say more about the employee's work or where she lived, citing patient privacy laws. But she noted that the employee was concerned for her patients, calling in to let the hospital know that she wasn't feeling well and wouldn't see patients later this week.
"What we're doing," Miller said, "is an extension of those protective instincts."
Letitia Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3322.