Tuberculosis Hits 6 Harvard Employees

Six Science Center Computer User Services employees were diagnosed over the past week with a non-contagious form of tuberculosis, officials at University Health Services (UHS) said yesterday.

The employees, who have not taken sick leave, pose no health risk to students or to other workers, according to UHS physician Dr. Peter J. Zuromskis '66, director of acute care services. All six have been placed on medication.

Zuromskis said none of the 120 workers at User Services displayed symptoms of active tuberculosis, which is contagious.

Tuberculosis, a respiratory disease, is increasing in frequency in the U.S. Zuromskis said people infected with latent tuberculosis have a 10 percent chance of developing the active form of he illness later in life.

But Zuromskis said the drug isoniazide hydrochloride (INH), with which the six employees are being treated, "virtually eliminates" the chance of contracting the active form later.

Zuromskis said he strongly suggested that all User Services workers take a skin test to determine whether they have latent tuberculosis. Thirty-five of the 120 User Services employees have been tested so far.

Dr. David S. Rosenthal, director of UHS, said he was puzzled by the number of cases, which he called "a little high."

"This needs investigation," Rosenthal said, saying that the number of cases observed so far is closer o that expected in workers at a typical health care center, who might be exposed more often to the disease's active form.

Rosenthal said there are a number of possibilities of how the six contracted the disease.

"They might have been exposed to someone with active tuberculosis who visited for a few days," Rosenthal said. "That will be investigated."

Zuromskis said the small epidemic was discovered by chance.

"One employee was applying for another job and had to test for the disease," he said. "Then another happened to take a test as part of a routine check up."

Zuromskis said after the six cases were made known, he suggested all employees be tested. Zuromskis said he hoped the testing would be completed by next week