As busy college students, most of us probably forget to get our yearly checkups and shots—I know I do—but in order to qualify for volunteering in a medical setting, I had to get a tuberculosis (TB) skin test. Going into the Tang Center, I was ready to get this test over with, confident that I would not be positive for TB, as I had tested negative a couple years ago. To my surprise, my skin test did show up positive. I was then directed to get a chest X-ray and was put on hold for the volunteering position pending further results.
I didn’t know much about TB before getting my results, so when I found out that I was positive, I naturally freaked out and googled it as soon as I got home to determine exactly what was wrong with me. TB is a common disease that is caused by strains of Mycobacteria. While it usually attacks the lungs, it can spread to other areas of the body. It is transmitted through the air when people who have active TB sneeze, cough, or otherwise spread their saliva through the air.
TB is epidemic mainly in third-world countries like India, and only 5 to 10% of people test positive in the United States. Because TB isn’t prevalent here, there isn’t much coverage on the disease, even though TB is a necessary annual test most people need to get before employment, especially in medical settings. Most people who breathe in the bacteria and become infected are able to fight it off and stop it from accumulating. This condition is called latent TB infection, and people with this have no symptoms and cannot spread TB to others. TB can be fatal if left untreated, but the US does have proper the treatment against active TB.
Fortunately, my chest X-ray was normal, and I only have latent TB, if even that. Apparently the TB skin test can be affected by a prior BCG (Bacille-Calmette-Guérin) vaccine. This vaccine protects against TB and is administered to children born in Asian countries like China, where I was born. Because this vaccine can affect the results of a TB skin test, people who have gotten the vaccine should be wary and instead get a TB blood test, which is not affected by BCG. I plan to take this blood test later this summer to verify my results.
Article by Angie Zhang
Feature Image Source: Medical News Today