Testing for Latent Tuberculosis: Questions for the Doctor
Tuberculosis (TB) is a serious health condition that usually affects the lungs. When someone is sick with TB, it’s called active TB or TB disease. Active TB can spread from person to person through the air, like when someone with active TB sneezes or coughs.
What is latent tuberculosis?
Sometimes, you can have TB but not feel sick. This is called latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI). If you have LTBI, you may not know it — so you need to get tested.
Talk to your doctor about getting tested for LTBI if you:
- Have been in close contact with someone who has active TB — for example, a person you live with
- Were born in or have lived in a country where TB is common — for example, Mexico, the Philippines, Vietnam, India, or China
- Live or have lived in a large group setting — for example, a homeless shelter, nursing home, or prison
- Inject drugs, especially if you’ve ever shared needles with other people
- Have HIV or another condition that weakens your immune system (the system in the body that fights infection)
If you have LTBI, you can’t pass it on to others by sneezing or coughing. But if you don’t get treatment, LTBI can turn into active TB. This could make you very sick, and you could then pass TB on to others.
Remember, LTBI doesn’t cause any signs or symptoms — so the only way to know if you have it is to get tested. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor if you’re at risk for LTBI.
What about cost?
Insurance plans must cover testing for people at risk for LTBI. That means you may be able to get tested at no cost to you. Talk to your insurance company to find out more.
What do I ask the doctor?
When you visit the doctor, it helps to have questions ready ahead of time. You can also ask a family member or friend to go with you to take notes.
Consider taking this list of questions to your next appointment.
- What puts me at risk for LTBI?
- Do I need to get tested for LTBI?
- How often do you recommend I get tested for LTBI?
- What are the different types of tests for LTBI?
- Which test do you recommend? Why?
- How will I find out my test results?
- When will I get my test results?
- If I have LTBI, what will happen next?
- Can you give me some information about LTBI to take home with me?
Content last updated May 26, 2023
This information on tuberculosis was adapted from materials from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.
Sheena Harris, MD, MPH
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Program (USPSTF)
Center for Evidence and Practice Improvement (CEPI)
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)