Local and Community News
Minnesota Official: Doctor With TB Should Not Have Seen Patients
January 2, 2003
A doctor who exposed as many as 100 patients to contagious tuberculosis should not have been seeing patients, a public health official says.Adapted from:
Dr. Okechukwu Iwu, who practices at St. Mary's and Miller-Dwan hospitals in Duluth, Minn., is hospitalized with severe pneumonia caused by tuberculosis. Iwu said he was sick when he saw patients in November and early December, but he did not think he had full-blown TB.
Before Iwu became ill in November, he had a dormant form of TB, he said. He also had been treated two years ago for a bacterial infection that is similar to TB. Iwu said he felt seriously ill soon after starting his vacation in mid-November, but he went back to work in December because he felt it was important to care for his patients. "I didn't think I had anything that was communicable. I continued working and I took the normal precautions," he said. "The problem for me was you have lots of people to see, lots of patients to see."
Medical professionals with dormant TB typically are allowed to see patients without restrictions because dormant TB cannot be passed to others. But Iwu -- who was so ill he could not climb a flight of stairs -- was too sick to be seeing patients at the time, said Larry Sundberg, an epidemiologist with the St. Louis County Health Department.
"The bottom line here is that tuberculosis is spread through the air, but it is not very infectious unless you have prolonged contact," said Dr. Harry Hull, state epidemiologist. "The people who are at highest risk are people who are in the same household." Sundberg said public health officials are contacting 50 of the 100 patients who are at highest risk for TB, either because they spent a lot of time with Iwu or have conditions that elevate their risk.
Iwu became a licensed Minnesota doctor in September. He also has licenses in Indiana and Maine. No disciplinary action has been taken against him, according to agencies in each state.