Johns Hopkins Hospital buildings evacuated for possible tuberculosis contamination

Two cancer research buildings at Johns Hopkins Hospital were evacuated Thursday due to possible tuberculosis contamination, according to the hospital.

The Baltimore City Fire Department investigated the release of a small amount of frozen tuberculosis in a bridge between the two buildings in the 1500 block of Orleans Street, said Kim Hoppe, a spokeswoman for the hospital, in a statement.

There were employees in the area when the incident occurred, but hospital officials said they believe no one was exposed to the bacteria and they did not treat anyone after the sample was released.

“We have determined there is no risk involved,” said Dr. Landon King, executive vice dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

King said the sample that leaked was “equivalent to a few drops.”

The Baltimore Fire Department received a call about the tuberculosis spill at 12:22 p.m.,said Chief Roman Clark, a department spokesman. Nearly a dozen fire vehicles surrounded the hospital’s cancer research center Thursday afternoon. A hub of white tents, which usually hosts the hospital’s weekly farmers’ market, was converted into a waiting area for those evacuated from the building.

The bridge where the sample leaked was between two buildings that do not connect to the hospital. Because the buildings are used for research, no patients were in either building.

The fire department previously thought the sample could spread through the buildings’ heating and cooling system, but the hospital “took action immediately” by shutting down the ventilation system, King said.

Tuberculosis is an airborne bacterial disease that can infect the lungs and other parts of the body. Symptoms include coughing that lasts at least three weeks, weight loss, coughing up blood, fever and fatigue, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

The contagious disease killed 1.7 million people worldwide in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s rarer in the United States — only 9,272 cases were reported in the U.S. in 2016, according to the CDC. People with weakened immune systems are more likely to contract tuberculosis, which is typically treated with a course of drugs for at least six months.

Dajuan Robinson, who works in a Hopkins building across the street from the cancer research center, said he was concerned when he received a text message alert from the hospital about the leak.

“When I saw the text I knew it was something serious,” said Robinson, a histotechnician. “They just let us know it was a hazmat situation and kept us updated.”

Marcy Omondi said she hadn’t seen anything like the incident in her 15 years as an administrative coordinator in the cancer research center. She said she was out getting lunch at the hospital’s farmers’ market when she heard the fire alarm sound inside. She was told she couldn’t go back in to retrieve her keys.

“I just want to get my stuff,” Omondi said as she waited for her husband to pick her up across the street from the research center.

It’s unclear how many people were evacuated. The buildings remained closed for several hours but reopened by about 4:20 p.m., after public safety officials and infectious disease experts gave the all-clear.

smeehan@baltsun.com

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