Tuberculosis Skin Test (PPD Skin Test)

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Quick GuideBacterial Infections 101: Types, Symptoms, and Treatments

Bacterial Infections 101: Types, Symptoms, and Treatments

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 (purified protein derivative) 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 extracted from TB cultures 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 attracted 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 attraction 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 2/25/2016

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