Tuberculosis exposure risk in emergency medicine residents

Acad Emerg Med. 1999 Oct;6(10):1044-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1553-2712.1999.tb01190.x.


Objectives: To assess purified protein derivative (PPD) test surveillance and respiratory protection practices of emergency medicine (EM) residents, along with the prevalence of PPD test conversion and the development of active tuberculosis (TB) in EM residents.

Methods: The study instrument was an anonymous, self-reporting, multiple-choice survey administered to U.S. and Canadian EM residents. It was distributed for voluntary completion in conjunction with the American Board of Emergency Medicine's annual in-service examination, which was administered February 25, 1998.

Results: A total of 89.3% (n = 2,985) of residents eligible to complete the survey completed at least part of it. The majority of residents are PPD-tested once a year. The prevalence of PPD test conversions in EM residents was between 1.4% (36/2,575) and 2.0% (52/2,575). Of the residents who PPD test-converted, the ED was most often the perceived area of TB source exposure (n = 15). Two residents (0.08%) reported having developed active TB, including chest radiographic findings or clinical infection, which equals a 0.14% (95% CI = 0.005 to 0.31) risk of developing active TB over a three-year residency. Half of all the residents do not routinely wear National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-approved particulate filtration respirator (PFR) masks in patient encounters at risk for TB exposure. While more than a third of EM residents have not undergone fit testing for a NIOSH-approved PFR mask, the lack of routine easy availability of such masks is the most common reason they are not routinely worn by EM residents during at-risk encounters for TB transmission.

Conclusions: Most surveillance PPD testing of EM residents is performed at intervals recommended by the CDC. TB control programs at institutions sponsoring EM residencies need to improve both compliance with PFR mask fit testing by EM residents and availability of approved PFR masks in appropriate areas of the ED. Despite poor compliance with personal respiratory protection in ED patient encounters at risk for TB transmission, the risk of an EM resident's developing active TB over a three-year residency is low.

MeSH terms

  • Emergency Medical Services*
  • Humans
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Patient-to-Professional
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Masks
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Protective Devices
  • Tuberculin Test
  • Tuberculosis / prevention & control
  • Tuberculosis / transmission*