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caption: Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
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Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW photo

Seattle hospital workers possibly exposed to dangerous bacteria Brucella

Employees of Harborview Medical Center are being treated for the dangerous Brucella bacteria after a possible exposure this month.

Employees in an operating room and a lab were exposed to the bacteria after an infected patient was admitted.

Harborview won’t say how many employees were exposed. Exposed employees have to take antibiotics and record their temperatures daily.

The national Centers for Disease Control are involved in dealing with the event.

“The response is robust because it can be a very serious disease if it’s not treated,” said Jeff Duchin, with King County Public Health. Duchin is helping coordinate the response.

“Brucellosis can cause a chronic condition with fever, weakness, muscle aches, back pain,” Duchin said. “It can affect multiple organs in the body, most likely the bones. It can affect the heart.”

Brucella is usually transmitted through unpasteurized dairy products, but people can also get it if it becomes aerosolized during surgery or in the lab.

“Whenever we have a serious infection that can potentially be prevented or there are things that we can do to keep people healthy in the future,” Duchin said, “we try and put some resources into intervening and helping.”

Officials say the exposed employees represent no risk to the general public.

Earlier this year, the CDC issued an alert to possible exposure to a drug-resistant strain of the bacteria in unpasteurized milk from a dairy in Pennsylvania. The milk was sold in 19 states, but not Washington.

The CDC says animals that are most commonly infected include sheep, cattle, goats, pigs and dogs.

The United States conducted research on using Brucella in biological weapons in the mid-20th century.1950s.