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What precautions should be taken for family members of a TB patient?

Tuesday, 12 August 2003
Answered by: Robert H. Fletcher
Professor of Ambulatory Care and Epidemiology
Harvard University
USA
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Q. One of my relatives is suffering from tuberculosis pneumonia. The results of CT scan are yet to come. What precautions should his wife and children take in order to prevent themselves from being infected? Are there any antibiotics which they can take as a precautionary measure?

A.  The usual care of family members exposed to active tuberculosis is to test them with a skin test for tuberculosis by PPD, called the Mantoux test, and if it is positive, consider a chest x-ray to see if the infection is active and if the chest x-ray does not show active TB, treating them with an antibiotic to prevent the family member from getting active disease. Many people are infected but never get sick from the infection. The antibiotic can increase the chances that this will occur. If the patient was very infectious, as is often the case with pneumonia, the doctor may decide to get another chest x-ray in a few months, just in case the infection in the family member was so recent that the skin test is not positive yet. In any case, have them see a doctor to plan what they will do to keep from getting active tuberculosis. There is lots that can be done, so urge them to act but not to be afraid.

A.  The usual care of family members exposed to active tuberculosis is to test them with a skin test for tuberculosis by PPD, called the Mantoux test, and if it is positive, consider a chest x-ray to see if the infection is active and if the chest x-ray does not show active TB, treating them with an antibiotic to prevent the family member from getting active disease. Many people are infected but never get sick from the infection. The antibiotic can increase the chances that this will occur. If the patient was very infectious, as is often the case with pneumonia, the doctor may decide to get another chest x-ray in a few months, just in case the infection in the family member was so recent that the skin test is not positive yet. In any case, have them see a doctor to plan what they will do to keep from getting active tuberculosis. There is lots that can be done, so urge them to act but not to be afraid.

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