What is a TB Test and Who Needs One?

Fortunately, in developed countries like the United States, tuberculosis (TB) is rare. According to the CDC, there were just under 8,000 reported cases in the U.S. last year. But this lung infection spreads quickly and can be deadly if left untreated. This means TB testing is an important tool to prevent large outbreaks and protect public health. Many people who have TB don’t show any symptoms. An estimated 25% of the world’s population has what’s known as latent tuberculosis infection. Although these individuals don’t feel sick and can’t spread the disease, it can turn into an active infection—especially in people with a weak immune system.

Luckily, if a latent TB infection is caught with a test, you can be treated early to prevent an active infection. Since March 24th is World Tuberculosis Day, now is a great time to review what a TB test is, what you should expect, and who needs one.

What is a TB Test?

A TB test checks to see if you’ve been infected with the bacteria responsible for causing tuberculosis. The most common type is a skin test that’s also called a Mantoux test or tuberculin skin test. Depending on why you need to be tested, you can also get a TB blood test. Either test can show if you’ve been infected with the bacteria that causes TB. But they can’t tell the difference between a latent or active infection. So if you have a positive skin or blood TB test, you’ll need additional testing to confirm which type you have. For now, let’s look at the two most common types of TB tests more closely.

TB Skin Test

A TB skin test works by injecting a small amount of protein under your skin to test your immune system’s response. Remember, this isn’t the actual bacteria that causes TB, just a protein from it. You can’t get sick from a TB skin test. But if you’ve been exposed to TB in the past, your skin will react to the protein. You’ll notice a firm, red bump at the injection site. A TB skin test requires multiple visits to your healthcare provider. During the first visit, they’ll use a small needle to inject the protein just under the skin of your inner forearm. This will leave a small bump or “bubble” that normally disappears within a few hours. You then need to wait 48-72 hours before returning for the provider to look at your arm and determine if the test is positive or negative. In some cases, such as for those working in healthcare, you may need to repeat this process a second time. The two-step TB test process helps prevent false negatives and better detects TB infections in people who were exposed less recently.

TB Blood Test

The blood test for TB is more convenient than the skin test since you only have to come to one appointment. It’s also more accurate than the skin test. Of course, many people dislike having their blood drawn so the skin test is still popular. During a TB blood test, a healthcare provider will insert a needle into a vein in your hand or arm and take a small blood sample. This usually only takes a few minutes and consists of a small pinch as the needle goes in. The provider will send your blood to the laboratory for testing and your results usually come back in 24-48 hours.

Who Needs a TB Test?

Most people don’t need a TB test. However, there are some exceptions. Most importantly, anyone having symptoms of an active TB infection should get tested. This includes symptoms like:

  • A cough lasting longer than two weeks
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Excess fatigue or weakness
  • Night sweats
  • Chills and fever
  • Unexplained weight loss

Some employers also require a TB test for employment. If you work in healthcare, childcare, or a school, you may need to be tested. Those at higher risk for getting TB may also want to be tested. This includes those who live or work in homeless shelters, nursing homes, or prisons, where TB is more common. You should also be tested if you travel outside the U.S. to an area where TB is common. For more information on who should be tested, refer to the CDC’s guidelines here.

Where to Get a Fast TB Test

If you need a TB test and don’t want to wait forever, urgent care is a great choice. At most clinics, you can simply walk in when it’s convenient and get your test done. Remember, if you have a TB skin test, you’ll need to come back to the same location a few days later.

Visiting urgent care for a TB test is usually faster than trying to make an appointment with your primary care provider (PCP). And since urgent care centers perform many TB tests and have a streamlined process, you’ll be in and out quickly.

TB Testing for Employers

If you’re an employer who needs TB testing for your entire workforce, Velocity Urgent Care is here to help. Our occupational medicine program is dedicated to helping you keep your employees safe and healthy.

Our clinics offer TB skin tests as well as drug testing, employee physicals, and walk-in injury treatment for everyone on your team. We also offer DOT physicals at all of our locations. To learn more about Velocity Urgent Care’s occupational medicine offerings, please visit our information page.

Velocity Urgent Care Has Your Back

If you need a fast TB test for work or because you’re feeling sick, Velocity Urgent care is here for you. Our clinics specialize in efficient care that’s built around your schedule. You can walk into any of our convenient locations and get your TB test done the same day.

You can also make an appointment with our convenient online registration portal to skip the waiting room and arrive when it’s your turn to be seen. We even offer text message updates so you can wait in the car (if you prefer) until it’s time for your appointment.

Velocity Urgent Care is an in-network provider for most major insurance plans, meaning you can be seen for the cost of your co-pay and deductible.

All our locations also accept Medicare, Medicaid, and Tricare. Veterans Administration beneficiaries are also welcome.

To learn more about our services, locations, hours, and more, visit www.velocityuc.com.