Commanders disclosed Sunday that a male resident, now at the base hospital, has an active case of tuberculosis and appealed for people on the base with possible TB symptoms to contact the emergency room.
“At this time, our public health officials have determined the risk to the community to be low,” Navy Capt. David Culpepper, base commander, told the Miami Herald Sunday. He added that the 5,500 or so base residents were being notified throughout the day by radio, online public service announcements and on local closed-circuit TV.
“That’s really the most important thing right now,” he said. “The No. 1 way to ensure that we don’t have any uncontrolled spread is to make sure people understand what the symptoms are, and if they have those symptoms they come to the hospital.”
Those include a bad cough for three weeks, chest pain, coughing up blood, weakness or fatigue, weight loss, loss of appetite and chills.
The military would not describe the patient except to say he was not on the hospital staff, did not work with children and is not one of the 41 war-on-terror detainees. Some of the captives arrived here more than a decade ago with latent TB, meaning it’s not active.
The tuberculosis patient arrived sick at the base hospital on Friday. Staff “immediately put a mask on him,” the type that filters out airborne particles, to safeguard those around him, said Navy Capt. Kevin Buckley, an emergency room doctor and base hospital executive officer. Now the patient is being treated with antibiotics.
Buckley said because of a shortage of private quarters on the base the man would likely stay at the hospital for about 30 days while taking medication. Otherwise, he’d be given a place to stay on his own and be advised to avoid public places such as the outdoor movie theaters or indoor Navy dining rooms while he receives the drugs and testing is under way.
The base disclosed the case just before a Pentagon charter flight arrived with about 100 people — lawyers, court reporters and other staff — to start five weeks of pretrial hearings of the Guantánamo war court with a two-session in the USS Cole case.
Both Navy captains emphasized that TB is not passed through “casual contact.” The bacteria transmits through droplets in the air, said Buckley, after someone with an active case coughs it up.
Now the base is “looking for other active cases” and asking people with certain symptoms to contact the hospital emergency room, said Culpepper, a Navy pilot.
Buckley said doctors are also conducting a “contact threat assessment” of five people who have been in the proximity of the patient for a prolonged period to see if they are sick. Those five people could be household members, close-quarters co-workers or fellow students.
“Depending on what questions and symptoms they have that may expand,” he said.
Commanders were also unable to say when the base had the last active case. None appear in the hospital records, which date only back to 2009. The base is more than a century old.
The population of the base soared in recent weeks with the addition of about 500 troops and civilians to take part in an exercise on how to handle a Caribbean migrant crisis. The majority stayed on the leeward side of the base, a 20-minute boat ride away from the windward side where most base residents live.
A celebrity is also due on base later this week: actor Gary Sinise in what is believed to be his first visit since 2007.
From the base announcement
▪ There are currently no travel restrictions to or from the base.
▪ Individuals with symptoms, such as a bad cough for three weeks, chest pain, coughing up blood, weakness/fatigue, weight loss, loss of appetite or chills, should contact the U.S. Naval Hospital Guantánamo Bay Emergency Room.
▪ For questions or concerns about possible exposure, individuals should contact their healthcare provider or call Guantánamo Bay’s director of public health at 757-933-3260.