More than 150 Harborview Medical Center employees potentially exposed to dangerous bacteria

Harborview Medical Center confirms that 158 employees are receiving treatment and medical attention after a potential exposure to brucella, a bacteria that can cause the infectious disease, brucellosis.

The exposure occurred in an operating room and a laboratory at Harborview in late June. A patient was transferred from another hospital to Harborview for an urgent operation and later tests revealed that person had brucellosis.

“The symptoms are vague,” said Dr. Chloe Bryson-Cahn, doctor of infectious diseases at Harborview Medical Center. “It can look like a ton of other infections and so when he was transferred here from outside, the other hospital did not know.”

On June 25, she said, a lab worker dropped a test tube with the brucella bacteria in it, potentially exposing lab workers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, initial symptoms can include fever, sweats, headache, and pain in muscles, joints, or the back.

The CDC states that some symptoms may persist for longer periods of time or never go away, including recurrent fevers, arthritis, swelling of the heart, and neurological symptoms.

“Can brucellosis be deadly?” KIRO 7 reporter Linzi Sheldon asked.

“If unrecognized and untreated, yes,” Bryson-Cahn said.

The bacteria is found in animals and transmitted to people by drinking unpasteurized milk or by being exposed to bodily fluid from an infected animal.

A person who said they were a Harborview employee provided KIRO 7 a fact sheet that Harborview confirmed it gave employees once they received medical attention.

It reads in part, "Depending on the type of exposure you may be offered antibiotics, blood tests or be asked to watch for symptoms,” all things Bryson-Cahn confirmed have been happening.

But what about any risk to others?

“Is there any concern of infection to employees' families or to any of the patients at Harborview?” Sheldon asked.

“Great, thank you for asking that question,” Bryson-Cahn said. “I think -- just to be absolutely clear, because this does not spread human to human, there is no risk of exposure to any employees who were elsewhere in the hospital … anyone’s family at home, and any of our patients.”

Bryson-Cahn said they are monitoring people’s blood test results and weekly symptom reports for any signs of an infection. She said blood tests have not shown anyone having an immune response to brucella bacteria so far.

“I think the risk is really low,” she said. “We really took this approach out of an abundance of caution.”

More news from KIRO 7


Comments on this article