NPR : News

Filed Under:

Why Finding A TB Test Got Hard

Hospitals and public health departments around the country are having a tough time coming up with a staple of preventive health care: the skin test for tuberculosis.

The shortage, caused by problems at a factory in Canada, is prompting suspension of routine TB testing around the country.

People often have to get the test, called a PPD test, before enrolling in school, and it's also often required annually for people who work in hospitals, nursing homes, jails and other facilities where exposure to tuberculosis can be a problem.

"We believe we've identified the cause and we're back on track, but it will take a while to catch up," said Len Lavenda, a spokesman for Sanofi Pasteur Limited, manufacturer of the Tubersol PPD test. He told Shots he didn't "know specifically" what led to the production halt at the Toronto plant.

The Tubersol PPD test will be largely unavailable until the end of May, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which just published a report on the shortage in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

There's just one other PPD test approved in the United States, and that one, Aplisol, has been increasingly hard to find as health-care providers turn to it because they can't get Tubersol. As a result, the CDC reports, "This might require deferment of testing some persons."

PPD tests work by injecting a fluid containing sterile bits of protein under the skin on a person's forearm. If the person has been infected with the tuberculosis bacillus, the test can cause a raised, hard welt on the arm in two to three days. (MedlinePlus has a good description of the test, and the CDC goes into more detail on who should get tested.)

TB skin tests are cheap ($39 at Minute Clinic) and simple, though they do involve a needle and a trip back to the doctor if the test looks positive. A positive test doesn't mean a person has an active TB infection, but does need followup.

If PPD tests can't be found, the CDC recommends an IGRA blood test. It's a bit more invasive because it requires a blood draw, but can be more accurate, particularly in people who have had a BCD TB test, which is used in other countries.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Lisa Lucas Takes The Reins At The National Book Foundation

Lucas is the third executive director in the history of the foundation, which runs the National Book Awards. Her priority? Inclusivity: "Everyone is either a reader or a potential reader," she says.
NPR

The Shocking Truth About America's Ethanol Law: It Doesn't Matter (For Now)

Ted Cruz doesn't like the law that requires the use of ethanol in gasoline. So what would happen if it was abolished? The surprising answer: not much, probably.
WAMU 88.5

The Latest on the Military, Political and Humanitarian Crises in Syria

Russia continues airstrikes in Syria. Secretary Kerry meets with world leaders in an attempt to resolve the country’s five-year civil war. A panel joins Diane to discuss the latest on the military, political and humanitarian crises facing Syria.

NPR

Should India's Internet Be Free Of Charge, Or Free Of Control?

Facebook's free Internet service was banned in India on the basis of net neutrality this week. Internet providers, regulators say, should not be allowed "to shape the users' Internet experience."

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.