Tip of the week: In the wake of TB exposures, check your facility’s isolation rooms for air leaks

Hospital Safety Insider, April 15, 2009

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A pediatric physician-in-training who inadvertently saw young patients at three Chicago area hospitals while being infected with tuberculosis (TB) brings up a timely opportunity to verify that your isolations rooms stay under negative pressure.

The TB scare affected Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Children’s Memorial Hospital, both in Chicago, and Evanston (IL) Hospital.

In its 2005 Guidelines for Preventing the Transmission of Mycobacterium Tuberculosis in Healthcare Settings, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlines a variety of engineering controls for control of TB. Room leaks from isolation rooms present a risk for TB exposures.

Some easy steps to take to ensure negative pressure include the following:


  • Check all isolation rooms for negative pressure before occupancy, and then daily when occupied by a patient, using air-pressure monitoring devices, smoke tubes, or other methods
  • Keep doors to isolation rooms closed as much as possible, as open doors can substantially affect negative air pressure
  • If negative pressure can’t be maintained, seal cracks around windows and doors, and replace any porous suspended ceiling panels with gasketed or sealed solid panels
All three Chicago area hospitals have contacted hundreds of patients and staff members who may have been exposed to the infected physician. As of Tuesday, early screenings of these people came back negative for TB infection, reported the Chicago Tribune.

The physician infected with TB previously had tested negatively for TB under guidelines from the CDC, which recommend healthcare workers receive such tests at least annually, according to the Chicago Tribune.

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