The What and Why’s of TB Testing

There you are: filling out an application for a new volunteer opportunity at a hospital or applying to medical school. You are almost done with the application process, and you see one statement at the end: “All applicants must have a TB test done.”

What exactly is a TB Test? Is it something that needs to be done? What is the process like? Will it hurt? People often do not understand what a TB test is, but not to worry because the TB test is not something to be afraid of at all. It is a simple and painless test.

What is a TB Test?

The TB in TB test or TB skin test stands for Tuberculosis. Tuberculosis is a disease that is transmitted through the air. It is not transmitted through touching, kissing, or sharing drinks or food.

There are two kinds of tests that are used to determine if a person has been infected with TB bacteria: the tuberculin skin test (TB skin test) and TB blood tests.

The TB skin test is the one we most commonly do here at the Campus Health Center. The test consists of a small injection into the forearm. Between 48-72 hours, you must return to have the health care provider look at your forearm to see if you had a reaction or not. The health care worker will look for a raised, hard area or swelling, and if present, measure its size using a ruler. Redness by itself is not considered part of the reaction.

You may also get a TB blood test, which will measure how the immune system reacts to the bacteria that cause TB. Blood will be taken and your blood will be tested in the lab to see if there are any TB bacteria.

What if I test Positive to a TB Test?

If you test positive, thismeans your body was infected with TB bacteria. Additional tests are needed to determine if you have latent TB infection or TB disease, and may include a chest x-ray or other lab tests. A health care worker will then provide treatment as needed, which normally includes several medications prescribed by your health professional.

My employer or professional school does not require a TB test. Should I get one anyway?

The Center for Disease Control recommends that you have TB testing done if:

  • You have spent time with someone who has TB disease
  • You have HIV infection or another medical problem that weakens the immune system
  • You have symptoms of TB disease (fever, night sweats, cough, and weight loss)
  • You are from a country where TB disease is common (most countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Russia)
  • You live or work somewhere in the United States where TB disease is more common (homeless shelters, prison or jails, or some nursing homes)
  • You use illegal drugs

Employers in the health care field or fields where there is a lot of interaction with large groups of people often have their employees or volunteers screened for TB. Working in medical settings or a densely populated area causes a greater risk for TB as it is spread through the air.

Why should I get tested?

Employers and professional schools want their employees/students to be safe. TB is a serious condition that can affect large groups of people in a short amount of time. If not treated quickly, TB can escalate to a serious condition with a weakened immune system.

Check out the Campus Health Center for more information on TB testing. Our health care providers can give you more information about TB testing and can offer testing services right on campus to make compliance with your professional school or volunteer/employment position easy and affordable.

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