Should I get tested for tuberculosis?
December 11, 2014 1:45 PM   Subscribe

I work in a social work setting. One of my clients was diagnosed with tuberculosis today. Earlier this week I interviewed him for about an hour. Should I be worried about potential exposure to the disease?

I know you are not my doctor but I tend to over worry about health issues so I am prefer to gauge whether I am over-reacting to this. None of my colleagues seem too concerned, but I am the only one who spoke with the client for an extended period of time. If this matters, we sat with a coffee table between us for most of the interview, but also had closer interactions at certain moments.

Basically, I want to know if this is something worth seeing a doctor about. I googled it some, but stopped because googling diseases is not really a good idea of me and my hypochondriac tendencies.

Side note: I have had a cold for over a week now, and therefore am already suffering from a cough (and unfortunately it is of the phlegmy variety).
posted by Blissful to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: When I taught one of my students had TB, and although she was actually in my classroom about 2% of the total time, everyone who had a class with her, students and teachers, were advised to go to the public health department and get tested.

It's really no big deal. I don't think you have anything to worry about, but this is one of those times when you want to get tested, if for no other reason than to set your mind at ease.

The test is a simple skin prick. Then you come back and a doc looks at it.

Call the health department or your doctor and find out what they recommend. But you'll probably get the test and it will probably be negative.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:51 PM on December 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: TB is not as highly contagious as many other infections, and further, it exists in a latent state in many people where it is not passed to others. Unless the person was actively coughing on you, you're very unlikely to get infected.

Having said that, if you work in a public health setting, or work with folks who are at high risk of TB (for example, the disease is more common in homeless people because of living in crowded shelter envitonments) getting annual or at least every other year TB tests is a smart policy. Anyone who works in a clinic or hospital does so because of course you can always be exposed without knowing it.

So yes, start getting TB tests on a scheduled basis, but no, I don't think you're likely to have just contracted it.
posted by latkes at 1:52 PM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's a reasonable precaution for folks who have potential to be exposed to TB to get routine skin testing done to check exposure. It's called TST around here. The CDC has a page on it here. It's cheap and quick to do. If nothing else, it helps your own peace of mind.

Ideally, doctors want a couple of tests prior to exposure to get a baseline, but I'm sure that they could start you now.
posted by bonehead at 2:31 PM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

There's a blood test now, too - I had to get it done before starting a medication and it was even easier because I didn't have to go back in to have the (lack of) reaction verified. I'd vote go do it.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:37 PM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

How would you feel if you later learned you had contracted it and exposed other people?
posted by Nerd of the North at 2:42 PM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Go see a doctor & get the test. You sound like you'll be worried about it anyway, so it's worth going if only for the peace of mind.
posted by wwax at 3:34 PM on December 11, 2014

If there is any way you can ask the person in question whether they were diagnosed with latent or active TB, there's a huge difference in terms of the answer to this question. But it certainly doesn't hurt anything to get tested. I'm a healthcare worker so I get one every year - easy test.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 4:15 PM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

The test is so easy to do, there is no reason not to go get it. Get the test and put your mind at ease.
posted by Toddles at 4:22 PM on December 11, 2014

I would ask your employer to cover the testing, as it would be work-related.
posted by theora55 at 5:23 PM on December 11, 2014

If you're in the US, this would fall under workers' compensation and testing would be covered by your employer's work comp program.

This article might be useful: Tuberculosis liability issues in the workplace. Given your description of the situation — he's your client through work, you spent time with him doing your job earlier this week, and you just learned that he's been diagnosed with TB — it seems pretty clear-cut to me that the exposure was work-related.

As far as your coworkers being inclined to treat it lightly, that article's suggested first step is to contact the Department of Public Health. Also, if it can be reasonably expected that your clients may have TB, it might be a matter for OSHA as well.
posted by Lexica at 6:00 PM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Former EMT who spent quality time cooped up in ambulances with TB patients: I'm not worried about you, but the test is really simple and a reasonable precaution if you were exposed to a person with active TB, and it sounds like it'd give you peace of mind.

Caveat: the skin test is dead simple, but has a high false-positive rate, so in most places you need a chest x-ray/blood test to make a diagnosis and a big red arm welt from the PPD is not worth panicking over.
posted by jameaterblues at 9:55 PM on December 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

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