Tuberculosis Skin Test
(PPD Skin Test)

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

Tuberculosis skin test facts

  • The tuberculosis skin test is also known as the tuberculin test or PPD test.
  • The PPD test is used to determine if someone has developed an immune response to the bacterium that causes tuberculosis (TB).
  • The standard recommended tuberculin test is the Mantoux test, which is administered by injecting a 0.1 mL volume containing 5 TU (tuberculin units) PPD into the top layers of skin of the forearm.
  • Skin tests should be read 48-72 hours after the injection.
  • The basis of the reading of the skin test is the presence or absence and the amount of induration (localized swelling).
  • A negative test does not always mean that a person is free of tuberculosis.
  • A person who received a BCG vaccine (administered in some countries but not the U.S.) against tuberculosis may also have a positive skin reaction to the TB test.

What is the tuberculosis skin test?

The tuberculosis skin test is a test used to determine if someone has developed an immune response to the bacterium that causes tuberculosis (TB). This response can occur if someone currently has TB, if they were exposed to it in the past, or if they received the BCG vaccine against TB (which is not administered in the U.S.). The World Health Organization estimates that 2 billion people worldwide have latent TB, while around 3 million people worldwide die of TB each year. The tuberculosis skin test is also known as the tuberculin test or PPD test.

The tuberculin skin test is based on the fact that infection with M. tuberculosis bacterium produces a delayed-type hypersensitivity skin reaction to certain components of the bacterium. The components of the organism are contained in extracts of culture filtrates and are the core elements of the classic tuberculin PPD (also known as purified protein derivative). This PPD material is used for skin testing for tuberculosis. Reaction in the skin to tuberculin PPD begins when specialized immune cells, called T cells, which have been sensitized by prior infection, are recruited by the immune system to the skin site where they release chemical messengers called lymphokines. These lymphokines induce induration (a hard, raised area with clearly defined margins at and around the injection site) through local vasodilation (expansion of the diameter of blood vessels) leading to fluid deposition known as edema, fibrin deposition, and recruitment of other types of inflammatory cells to the area.

An incubation period of two to 12 weeks is usually necessary after exposure to the TB bacteria in order for the PPD test to be positive. Anyone can have a TB test, and it can be given to infants, pregnant women, or HIV-infected people with no danger. It is only contraindicated in people who have had a severe reaction to a previous tuberculin skin test.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/30/2014

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Tuberculosis Skin Test - Symptoms Question: What were the symptoms and signs of your tuberculosis infection?

Tuberculosis Diagnosis

Because TB may occur as either a latent or active form, the definitive diagnosis of active TB depends on the culture of mycobacteria from sputum or tissue biopsy. However, it may take weeks for these slow-growing bacteria to grow on specialized media.


STAY INFORMED

Get the Latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!