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Beaverton workers treated for tuberculosis exposure

Washington County health officials say the disease is not likely to spread beyond a Murray Boulevard call center

Washington County health officials say a dozen employees at a Beaverton call center who were exposed to tuberculosis are on medication to prevent them from developing the disease.

The county's Department of Health and Human Services reported that in late March one employee of the Stream Inc. call center on Southwest Murray Boulevard was diagnosed with TB. In the past two weeks, the agency has tested nearly 70 employees who were exposed to the illness.

A dozen workers tested positive and are taking medication to head off a TB infection.

Health officials said the employees were mostly likely exposed at the call center, which makes the case somewhat unusual, because most TB cases in the county are isolated, with only a few people exposed, said Kent Burtner, public information officer for the Department of Health and Human Services in Hillsboro.

'We have typically between eight and 20 new TB cases every year, so this is not that surprising,' Burtner said. 'What makes this different is that it was exposed at the place of employment.'

Tuberculosis usually strikes the lungs and causes fatigue, weight loss, fever and night sweats. Symptoms of TB include coughing, chest pain and coughing up blood.

The disease is spread through the air, but requires prolonged contact. People can't catch TB from walking near a person who is infected with the disease, Burtner said. Just being exposed to the illness doesn't guarantee that a person will develop the disease, he said.

'It's very hard to catch TB,' Burtner said.

Stream Inc. of Richardson, Texas, has about 1,000 employees in its Beaverton call center. This is the first time TB has been found in one of its 27 worldwide branches, said Katherine Dockerill, the company's senior vice president for marketing and business strategies.

'This is very unusual,' Dockerill said. 'It would be unusual for any business in Beaverton. It just happened that the individual who had the disease came to work for us.'

The person infected with TB has not worked at Stream's call center since early March. County officials wouldn't provide details about the person, other than to say he or she was receiving treatment and was expected to recover.

'TB is now a curable disease,' Burtner said. 'It didn't use to be.'

When the disease was discovered, county health officials met with Stream employees and found a high percentage of positive tests (17 percent) which indicated the illness had been spread at the call center.

Of the 12 employees with a positive TB test, 11 had close contact with the employee who was ill.

Despite that exposure, health officials don't think the disease will spread to other Stream workers. The county is monitoring the office and its employees to make sure there are no future risks of illness, Burtner said.