False diagnosis of tuberculosis by the Health Department and the consequent quarantine of a woman has cost the Westchester County in New York heavily. It has to cough up $75,000 dollars now.
Based on the diagnosis, county officials ordered Maureen Ryan, 64, a nursing case manager who had worked with high-risk obstetrics patients, isolated at her home last year from early January through most of February, said Deputy County Attorney Lori Alesio and Ryan's lawyer, Kevin Kitson of White Plains.
Kitson said an estimated 75 people, from Ryan's children and grandchildren to her co-workers at Hudson Health Plan in Tarrytown, were told to undergo tuberculosis tests because they had been in contact with her.
She "was under the impression she had given TB to her children, her grandchildren - she was freaking out," Kitson said. "It wasn't until quite a while that they said, 'Oh, no, we made a mistake.'"
Most of the people were given skin-prick TB tests, but, Kitson said, "Her own daughter, because she had respiratory problems, underwent anesthesia and a bronchoscopy to rule out" the disease.
Ryan had undergone a tuberculosis test after more than a year of struggling with respiratory problems, similar to bronchitis, that had not responded to antibiotics and other treatments, Kitson said.
When the positive test result came back, he said, a county health official called her at work and said, "You have to leave immediately."
Kitson said that, during the isolation period, a county Health Department representative went to Ryan's house at first seven days a week, and later five days a week, to make sure she was taking a combination of four "heavy-duty medications," including strong antibiotics that left her with a rash over her entire body. She was allowed to leave home only for medical appointments, and had to wear a mask, he said.
In addition, he said, Ryan suffered from "the apprehension of thinking she was going to die or whatever else goes with" such a diagnosis.
After about two months in isolation, Ryan was allowed to return to work but continued on multiple medications, Kitson said. Then, the Health Department apparently rechecked the results and discovered that Ryan did not have tuberculosis after all.
On May 16, he said, a Health Department doctor called Ryan and told her to "discontinue her medication immediately."
Alesio, the county lawyer, called the original test result "a mechanical error." Kitson said Ryan believes her sample was contaminated by that of another person's positive tuberculosis test; he said the test was done by county laboratory staff working in association with Westchester Medical Center.
Westchester County saw an increase in tuberculosis cases last year, with 72 active cases diagnosed, after averaging about 58 cases a year for the six previous years, said Heather McGill, a spokeswoman for the Health Department. Because the increased number was for only one year, she said, it's hard to say whether the cases will continue to be on the rise.
According to the county, more cases are occurring among health care workers, school students and school personnel with the ability to spread the disease to many people. In the first three months of this year, two cases required the testing of 600 students and staff members at schools in the county.
Nationally, officials have expressed concern about the rising number of drug-resistant cases of the disease.
A tuberculosis patient who has been quarantined for nine months in the prison ward of a Phoenix hospital as a threat to public safety made national headlines recently when the man went public with his story.
Officials there said he has a drug-resistant form of the disease and skipped his medications and violated a voluntary quarantine order, risking infecting others.