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Tuberculosis infection-control practices in United States emergency departments


STUDY OBJECTIVE: To determine the frequency with which patients with suspected tuberculosis (TB) or TB risk factors present to US emergency departments and to describe current ED TB infection-control facilities and practices.

DESIGN: Mailed survey of a sample of EDs in US acute care facilities.

PARTICIPANTS: A random sample (n = 446) of subjects who responded to a 1992 survey of all US municipal, Veterans Affairs, and university-affiliated hospitals and a 20% random sample of all private hospitals with more than 100 beds conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

RESULTS: We collected data on patient demographics and general ED characteristics, TB isolation facilities and policies, and employee tuberculin skin-testing policies and results. Of 446 facilities surveyed, 305 surveys (68.4%) were returned. The proportions of facilities reporting that patients suspected of having TB are seen daily, weekly, monthly, and less frequently were, respectively, 12.6%, 17.2%, 23.3%, and 46.9%. The proportion of EDs in which indigent patients are cared for on a daily basis was 89%; the homeless, 57.5%; the HIV-infected, 35.9%; i.v. drug users, 45.4%; and recent immigrants, 30%. Written criteria for isolation of patients with suspected TB at triage or in the ED were in place in 56% and 76% of facilities, respectively. TB isolation rooms fulfilling CDC guidelines were available in triage or waiting areas in 1.7% of facilities and in 19.6% of EDs. Air venting directly outside, high-efficiency particulate air filtration of recirculated air, and UV germicidal lights were used in 21%, 17%, and 8% of general patient care areas of EDs, respectively. At least one ED employee had shown tuberculin skin test conversion in 16.1% of EDs in 1991; this figure was 26.9% in 1992.

CONCLUSION: Patients with TB or at risk for TB are often treated in US EDs, and the risk for transmission of TB in this setting appears to be increasing. Prolonged waiting times and lack of infection-control facilities in EDs may contribute to this problem. Consideration should be given to implementation of policies and facilities recommended by the CDC.

Moran GJ, Fuchs MA, Jarvis WR, Talan DA

Ann Emerg Med 1995 Sep;26(3):283-9

PMID: 7661415