From the Hotline: Risk of Tuberculosis at Work

Question: What steps should an employer take if an employee is being tested for tuberculosis (TB)? Is there a risk of transmission if the employee is at work?

Answer: Because there may be some risk when an employee is exposed to tuberculosis (TB), the employer should require an employee to provide a medical release prior to permitting an employee to return to work when there is knowledge of testing. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states:

It is important to remember that only a person with TB disease can transmit TB bacteria to others. If an individual has been around someone with TB disease, he or she can get TB infection. However, not everyone infected with TB germs becomes sick. A person with latent TB infection cannot spread germs to other people, but can develop TB disease in the future. For additional information, contact your local or state TB control program. They can advise you about what should be done.

The TB control program will determine if the employee has latent TB infection or TB disease. Since people with latent TB infection cannot spread TB to others, nothing further will need to be done in the workplace. However, if the employee has TB disease, the TB control program may start a contact investigation. The investigation will help them find out how the employee may have been exposed to TB and to determine who else might be at risk. During the investigation, the health department will ask the employee about his or her job, such as the work hours, working conditions, and people who work closely with him or her.

The TB control program may set up an appointment to talk with you and to tour your workplace. They may also want to talk to people who regularly visit your workplace. Throughout the investigation, they will work with you to make sure that the employee’s identity is kept confidential.

More information can be found in the CDC’s handout for employers at www.cdc.gov/tb/publications/factsheets/general/nonhealthcare_employers.htm.