Researchers in Baltimore have identified the first known case of an embalmer getting tuberculosis from a corpse. The research was reported in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.
The finding led the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine researchers to recommend that funeral home workers take the same precautions as medical workers to prevent transmission of the sometimes-fatal disease.
The 35-year-old dead man had AIDS as well as an active infection of tuberculosis, which is transmitted by tiny particles of respiratory secretions that can hang in the air for hours.
DNA fingerprinting established that the embalmer's TB came from the dead man, said researcher Dr. Timothy Sterling.
During embalming, the blood is drained and preservative fluids are injected into the body under pressure.
Secretions sometimes become airborne when fluids gurgle through the corpse's mouth and nose or when embalming fluids are dumped down a drain.
The embalmer reportedly had 15 years of experience, always wore gloves, and usually wore a mask.
He was treated with antibiotics for six months and is now tuberculosis-free.
Around the world, 2 million people die of TB annually, and up to 8 million new cases of it are diagnosed each year, according to John Hopkins University.
OSHA recommends only that hospital workers and those performing autopsies wear gloves and masks when handling patients or bodies.