Tuberculosis and the Health Care Worker: A Historical Perspective

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Abstract

Many hospital outbreaks of tuberculosis have occurred in recent years in the United States, resulting in tuberculosis infection and disease among health care workers and patients.Several hospital workers have died of nosocomially acquired multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. Assuring the safety of the health care worker with respect to tuberculosis has become an urgent priority. A review of the medical literature of the past 100 years reveals that our current view of tuberculosis care as an occupational hazard emerged only in the 1950s, after a fierce and extensive debate. Many authorities had felt that care of the tuberculous patient conferred a health advantage to the care provider. This paper reviews this debate and considers steps taken decades ago, before our current environmental interventions were available to ensure the safety of the health care worker.

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