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UPDATED: Sanford doctor diagnosed with tuberculosis

FARGO - A Sanford Health doctor was recently diagnosed with tuberculosis, or TB, the hospital announced this afternoon.

The hospital is in the process of contacting employees and making personal phone calls to all patients who may have been exposed, a Sanford news release says.

At least 77 patients and 43 employees may have been exposed from July 1 to Aug. 16. Sanford will offer free evaluations and testing to these individulas.

The doctor was not named in the release. At the time the doctor was tested, there was no indication he or she had active TB, the Sanford statement says.

The hospital plans to address media through interviews with Dennis Millirons, president of Sanford Medical Center.

The hospital is partnering with the North Dakota Department of Health to ensure the safety of patients, employees and the public, the statement says.

A very small number of people exposed actively are infected with TB, the statement says.

It is safe for patients to continue with their appointments, and TB is not treated as a medical emergency, the statement says.

According to the Mayo Clinic:

Tuberculosis is a potentially serious infectious disease that primarily affects the lungs. Tuberculosis is spread from person to person through tiny droplets released into the air. Most people who become infected with the bacteria that cause tuberculosis don't develop symptoms of the disease.

TB remains a major cause of illness and death worldwide, especially in Africa and Asia. Every year tuberculosis kills almost 2 million people. Since the 1980s, rates of TB have increased, fueled by the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the emergence of drug-resistant strains of the TB bacteria.

Most cases of tuberculosis can be cured by taking a combination of medications for several months or longer.

The Mayo Clinic website states the following about TB symptoms:

Although your body may harbor the bacteria that cause tuberculosis, your immune system often can prevent you from becoming sick. For this reason, doctors make a distinction between latent TV, in which the bacteria remain in your body in an inactive state and cause no symptoms, and active TB, which can make a person sick and can be spread to others.

Signs and symptoms of active TB include unexplained weight loss, fatigue, fever, night sweats, chills and loss of appetite.

Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs, with additional signs and symptoms including coughing that lasts three or more weeks, coughing up blood, chest pain, or pain with breathing or coughing.

The website states tuberculosis can also affect other parts of your body, including your kidneys, spine or brain. When TB occurs outside your lungs, symptoms vary according to the organs involved. For example, tuberculosis of the spine may give you back pain, and tuberculosis in your kidneys might cause blood in your urine.

Tuberculosis is caused by an organism called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria spread from person to person through microscopic droplets released into the air. This can happen when someone with the untreated, active form of tuberculosis coughs, speaks, sneezes, spits, laughs or sings.

Although tuberculosis is contagious, it's not especially easy to catch. The Mayo Clinic states people are more likely to get tuberculosis from a family member or close co-worker than from a stranger. Most people with active TB who've had appropriate drug treatment for at least two weeks are no longer contagious.

Active TB develops years after the initial infection. After you've had latent TB for years, the walled-off bacteria may suddenly begin multiplying again, causing active TB. About one in 10 people who have TB infection goes on to develop active TB.