- Occupational disease
Despite the decline of tuberculosis in the population at large, healthcare workers (HCW) are still at risk of infection.
In a narrative review the TB risk in HCW and preventive measures are described, with the focus on epidemiology and Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) regulations in Germany.
There is an increased risk of infection not only in pneumology and laboratories with regular contact with tuberculosis patients or infectious materials. Epidemiological studies have also verified an increased risk of infection from activities that involve close contact with patients’ breath (e.g. bronchoscopy, intubation) or close contact with patients in need of care in geriatric medicine or geriatric nursing. In occupational disease claim proceedings on account of tuberculosis, the burden of proof can be eased for insured persons who work in these or other comparable fields. Forgoing evidence of an index person as a source of infection has led to a doubling of the rate of cases of tuberculosis recognised as an occupational disease and has halved the duration of occupational disease claim proceedings in Germany. For several years now, it has been possible to use the new interferon-y release assays (IGRAs) to diagnose a latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI) with significantly greater validity than with the traditional tuberculin skin test (TST). However, variability of the IGRAs around the cut-off poses problems especially in serial testing of HCWs. At around 10%, LTBI prevalence in German healthcare workers is lower than had been assumed. It can make sense to treat a recent LTBI in a young healthcare worker so as to prevent progression into active tuberculosis. If the LTBI is occupational in origin, the provider of statutory accident insurance can cover the costs of preventive treatment. However, little is known about disease progression in HCWs with positive IGRA sofar.
TB screening in HCWs will remain an important issue in the near future even in low incidence, high income countries, as active TB in HCWs is often due to workplace exposure. The IGRAs facilitate these screenings. However, variability of IGRA results in serial testing of HCWs need further investigations.