The chief medical officer of health for Newfoundland and Labrador says a patient with tuberculosis spent five weeks in hospital in St. Anthony before being diagnosed, and died shortly after.

Dr. David Allison says the elderly person was admitted to Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital on New Year's Eve, and was kept on an open ward.

"There was an indication from early on that tuberculosis should have been considered, and unfortunately it wasn't," Allison told the Corner Brook Morning Show Tuesday.

He said the patient was moved into isolation Feb. 4 and died Feb. 10.

"This was an elderly person who had other complicating medical conditions on admission," said Allison.

"Symptoms of congestive heart failure and pneumonia were prominent, and they were the obvious things that caregivers were looking at, and unfortunately missed cues that tuberculosis was important to look for," he said.

Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital

Health authorities say the patient spent five weeks on an open ward at Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital in St. Anthony. (www.electives.net)

Allison said if TB was considered earlier the patient would have been treated, but may still have died.

"Treatment, particularly of somebody very old, can be difficult, because the treatment for tuberculosis requires drugs that are sometimes toxic to individuals," he said. 

"And it is really difficult to know whether TB treatment would have saved this person's life."

'It is really difficult to know whether TB treatment would have saved this person's life.'     - Dr. David Allison

Potential exposure to others

Earlier diagnosis would have prevented possible exposure to others.

"The upshot of it all is that in this period of time, a number of people have been potentially exposed to a disease that is infectious and can be passed along from person to person," said Allison.

He said the patient was confined to bed, and probably wasn't able to cough all that well, "so the actual spread of tuberculosis to the immediate surroundings is limited."

Allison said the people who had the closest contact — relatives and roommates — have been notified.

But visitors, and other hospital staff or medical students who were in the hospital for a short time, may have spent time with the patient without taking precautions.

He said they'll need to have a skin test to see if they've been infected with the disease.

While Allison would not identify the patient, he said the deceased was not related to a cluster of TB cases identified in Labrador in 2014 and 2015.