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Exposure to Pulmonary Tuberculosis in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit: Unique Aspects of Contact Investigation and Management of Hospitalized Neonates

  • Joseph Jacob Nania (a1), Jena Skinner (a2), Kathie Wilkerson (a2), Jon V. Warkentin (a3), Valerie Thayer (a4), Melanie Swift (a5) (a4), William Schaffner (a5) (a6) and Thomas R. Talbot (a5) (a6)...



We describe the investigation of a tuberculosis (TB) exposure in which a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) respiratory therapist was the index patient, as well as the rationale by which exposed infants were managed and possible explanations for the lack of transmission to these patients.


Description of an exposure investigation.


Academic, level IV NICU of a tertiary care children's hospital.


Contacts of a respiratory therapist with pulmonary TB disease, including household members, healthcare coworkers, and infant patients.


In addition to 5 household contacts, 248 healthcare coworkers and 180 infant patients were identified as possibly exposed during the 24 days that the index patient worked between December 3, 2004, and January 30, 2005. Tuberculin skin tests (TSTs) were performed for 233 of the 235 contacts with the greatest degree of exposure (household and coworker contacts) who had a previously documented negative TST result or whose TST status was unknown prior to the investigation. No cases of latent tuberculosis infection or TB disease were identified. Because of characteristics of the index case, the exposure duration and setting, the infants' small lung volumes, and lack of evidence of transmission to higher-risk contacts, infants were not clinically evaluated or empirically treated for TB disease. Surveillance for subsequent illness was carried out by primary healthcare providers and parents. No TB disease or unexplained illness in these infants was reported in the 20 months following the exposure.


After limited hospital exposure to a healthcare worker with pulmonary TB disease who is not highly contagious, neonates can be safely managed without specific evaluation for TB disease or empirical treatment.


Corresponding author

1161 21st Avenue South, D-7235 Medical Center North, Nashville, Tennessee 37232 (


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