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4 on medical examiner staff show positive reaction for TB

Four employees at the state medical examiner's office had positive reactions in tuberculosis skin tests, but none of them has an active case of the highly contagious disease, officials said yesterday.

The skin test was administered July 18 as part of a new annual program at the office of the chief medical examiner, officials said during a press conference. Similar programs are offered at other public health facilities, said Alfred DeMaria Jr., assistant commissioner at the state Department of Public Health.

Four out of 40 employees tested positive and were sent for further evaluation.

"Each of the four employees was found to be negative for tuberculosis disease," said Public Safety Secretary Kevin M. Burke, whose office oversees the medical examiner's office. "Those tests only indicate that a person has been exposed to TB at some point in their life and [that person] may never develop the active form of the disease."

There was nothing to indicate that the individuals were exposed in the medical examiner's office, and officials emphasized yesterday that the workers posed no danger to anyone else. In Massachusetts, about 5 percent of people have positive reactions to a TB skin test and do not have the disease, said DeMaria.

Health and safety specialists recommended that the medical examiner's staff be tested annually because their work with corpses could expose them to the disease, officials said.

Anita Barry, director of communicable disease control at the Boston Public Health Commission, met with employees yesterday at the medical examiner's office to explain the findings. The four people who had positive tests will be given medication, if necessary, after their follow-up evaluation to prevent the disease from becoming active, she said.