DULUTH (AP) -- A doctor who exposed as many as 100 patients to contagious tuberculosis should not have been seeing patients, a public health official says.
Dr. Okechukwu Iwu, who practices at St. Mary's and Miller-Dwan hospitals in Duluth, is hospitalized with severe pneumonia caused by the tuberculosis. Iwu said he was sick when he saw patients in November and early December, but didn't think he had full-blown tuberculosis.
Iwu was too sick to be seeing patients at the time, said Larry Sundberg, an epidemiologist with the St. Louis County Health Department.
Before Iwu became ill in November, he had a dormant form of tuberculosis, he said. He was treated two years ago for a bacterial infection that is similar to tuberculosis.
Iwu said he felt seriously ill soon after starting his vacation in mid-November, but went back to work in December because he felt it was important to care for his patients.
"I didn't think I had anything that was communicable. I continued working and I took the normal precautions," he said. "The problem for me was you have lots of people to see, lots of patients to see."
Iwu said he had gotten so weak and short of breath that he could not climb a flight of stairs.
Sundberg said public health workers are contacting 50 of the 100 patients who are at the highest risk for contracting tuberculosis. Those patients either spent a lot of time with Iwu or have medical conditions that elevate their risk. Hospital workers also were being notified.
A spokeswoman for St. Mary's/Duluth Clinic Health System, which owns both hospitals, said officials knew of Iwu's past medical history when he was hired in June.
"At the time of his hire, he did not have active tuberculosis," said spokeswoman Beth Johnson.
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