Embalmer Gets Tuberculosis From Corpse

Jan. 28, 2000
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University are recommending that funeral home workers take the same precautions as medical workers to prevent the transmission of tuberculosis.

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.

About the Author

EHS Today Staff

EHS Today's editorial staff includes:

Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief: During his career Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeekEHS Today, Material Handling & LogisticsLogistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. In addition, he serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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