Workplace TB Testing: Why it’s So Vital

We don’t always talk about tuberculosis much these days — it’s not nearly as prevalent in the United States as it used to be. However, it’s still a threat, and keeping TB out of the workplace is important. This is especially the case for healthcare workers, people who work in labs, and teachers. How does TB testing work, and what are the different screening options? Let’s dive in!

What, What is Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis comes from a bacteria called mycobacterium tuberculosis, and it spread from individual to individual through the air. If an infected person laughs, coughs, sneezes, or spits, they release these germs into the air, which someone else can then inhale and become infected.

man with TB wiping his nose

There are actually two types of TB: latent TB and TB disease. With latent TB, the individual doesn’t show any symptoms. Also, if someone has latent TB, they can’t spread the disease to others. This is the more common type of tuberculosis. It’s still important to visit a healthcare provider because latent TB can turn into active TB disease if it doesn’t get addressed and/or treated. With TB disease, the individual experiences symptoms and can spread it to other people via close contact.

How Can You Conduct Workplace TB Testing?

If you want to start conducting TB testing at your place of business, you have options. There are two types of TB tests: skin tests and blood tests.

TB Skin Test

The tuberculin skin test — also called the Mantoux test — requires two visits with a healthcare provider. On the first visit, they inject the individual with tuberculin just under the top layer of skin on the forearm. At the injection site, a small, pale bump will appear.

Then, the individual must return 48 to 72 hours later for a follow-up. This is so that the provider can check for any reaction. If there’s a hard, raised bump, it could indicate infection. If there was no reaction, then the test results are negative.

While skin tests used to be more common, they’re also a little more involved. There are a minimum of two visits, and they’re not always accurate. If the individual previously had a BCG vaccine, for instance, it could trigger a false-positive test result. Plus, two different healthcare providers could potentially interpret a reaction to the injection in different ways.

TB Blood Test

The second type of test is a blood test — more specifically, the interferon Gamma Release Assay (IGRA) test. One such test that the FDA approved is the Quantiferon Gold Plus blood test. This is typically a quicker and more convenient experience. A healthcare provider will draw a blood sample, send it to a lab, and then the patient simply waits for the results (which will be positive, meaning TB bacteria was detected, or negative). If additional testing is needed, the provider might recommend a sputum culture or an x-ray to confirm if it’s latent or active tuberculosis.

Personally, I recommend the Quantiferon Gold Plus blood test over the skin test because it requires only one visit, the results are usually sent back within three to five business days, they can’t be impacted by provider bias, and the BCG vaccine has no effect — making this test more accurate and reliable.

If you need TB testing, eNational Testing can help. You can order your test online in just a few clicks, and there are more than 4,000 locations all across the United States. Plus, you don’t need to see your doctor before ordering.

What are the Signs of a Possible TB Infection?

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, certain businesses really need TB testing. In fact, in some of these companies, it’s required. Individuals cannot be hired without first getting a TB test.

Outside of requiring TB testing for your team, what other indications should you look out for that an individual could potentially be dealing with tuberculosis? Here are a few common symptoms.

  • Chest pain.
  • Exhaustion.
  • Loss of appetite/weight loss.
  • Night sweats.
  • Back pain.
  • Coughing that lasts for weeks at a time.
  • Coughing that produces blood or phlegm.

I want to note that these symptoms don’t automatically indicate a tuberculosis infection. It’s important to get tested in order to receive confirmation.

woman with lower back pain rubbing her back

While TB most commonly impacts the lungs, it can still affect other parts of the body, including the kidneys, brain, and spine. If not properly addressed, tuberculosis can be fatal. While treatment varies, is sometimes involves taking specific medications for anywhere from six to 12 months. It’s important to take this medicine exactly as the healthcare provide directs, or the infection can get worse/come back.

A Healthy Team is Crucial to Your Company’s Success

Sick days cost employers billions of dollars every year. It’s not just people calling in sick and taking time off. It’s also employees who come to work sick and end up not being able to perform like they normally would.

Sickness is inevitable, and everyone needs time off at some point. But as a business owner, building a healthy, happy, productive workplace starts with you! This means making employment screening convenient and accessible, ensuring that your team members understand how sick days and paid/unpaid time off work, and also keeping your workplace drug-free.

When you prioritize workplace wellness, there are a number of benefits. Your employees will feel important and cared for. You’ll create an environment that’s conducive to success and higher morale. And you’ll have a team of people who are eager and prepared to do their very best work. Putting your employees first is an important part of being a leader.

If you liked this blog, you might like reading about seven leadership qualities of successful entrepreneurs.

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Jonathan Baktari MD

Jonathan Baktari, MD brings over 20 years of clinical, administrative and entrepreneurial experience to lead the current e7 Health team. He has been a triple board-certified physician with specialties in internal medicine, pulmonary and critical care medicine. He has been the Medical Director of The Valley Health Systems, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Culinary Health Fund and currently is the CEO of two healthcare companies.
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