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USA Laws Regarding the TB Test for International Students

written by: Erik Hinrichsen•edited by: Noreen Gunnell•updated: 9/18/2010

This article reviews the TB (tuberculosis) testing requirements for international students in the US. The article explains the requirements, and helps students understand which test they need to take and where they can take it.

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    International students applying to colleges in the United States should know that there are several health requirements in the US that may not apply to US students. One of these requirements deals with Tuberculosis, abbreviated TB. Tuberculosis is a chronic disease of the lungs in which bacteria colonize the lungs; there is no cure. The disease is typically treated with antibiotics, though antibiotic-resistant strains of TB bacteria are increasingly common.

    The USA law for the tuberculosis test for international students applies to all international students, including Canadian and Mexican students. Though students may apply to schools without a TB test, a test is required to enroll in classes.

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    What is the law for TB testing?

    The United States has a national law regarding TB testing for international students from some countries. This law does not apply to citizens or permanent residents of the US. The law requires students to undergo a tuberculosis test in the United States; this means that a test from outside of the country will not be accepted. Students do not need to be negative for tuberculosis, but simply tested. The university health center will often perform these tests for students once they arrive.

    Students must provide documentation of a PPD skin test for TB which has been administered and evaluated in the United States. Tests from outside of the country are not acceptable as proof. The test must be analyzed in the US.

    Note: A positive PPD skin test is not necessarily a sign that a person has tuberculosis. It simply shows that the person may develop TB later on in life. Only about 10% of people testing positive for TB will develop symptoms. In people with healthy immune systems, tuberculosis generally does not leave the latent stage. Preventative treatments using antibiotics can also help prevent active TB from developing.

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    Why do International Students need to be tested?

    The reason for the law requiring testing of international students is that some countries outside of the US have much higher rates of tuberculosis than the US. For instance, less than 10% of the population of the United States tests positive for TB, while rates in some Asian and African nations are as high as 80%.

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    I have the BCG vaccine. Do I still need to be tested?

    Individuals who have received the tuberculosis vaccine (BCG) must still undergo the test. This vaccine does not excuse students from the tuberculosis testing requirement.

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    How can I get tested?

    Most universities conduct TB testing on their own campuses. This can be the simplest way to conduct the test, because it reduces the chances of miscommunication. Some schools might have more stringent TB testing requirements, so it is always best to check on your school's website before getting a test. The school should send all relevant health information to international students, but if they don't the information should be on the international students section of the school's website.

    A test will typically cost from 40 to 60 dollars, though some schools may provide testing for free. Health insurance may pick up the cost of TB testing, however.