Health Department cuts back on TB testing due to shortage

Health Department cuts back on TB testing due to shortage
Dr. Richard Bronstrom
Dr. Richard Bronstrom

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - On average, the state Department of Health conducts about a thousand tests per week for tuberculosis. That number is going to be cut drastically due to a nationwide shortage of the solution used for TB skin tests.

Tests are normally required for school personnel, students, food handlers, and workers in health care, domiciliary care, daycare and residential care facilities.

The shortage of testing solution began around November, and has now reached the point where the department will now limit testing to high-risk groups. As of today, the state will not restrict attendance at work or school because a TB clearance hasn't been issued.

"There seems to be manufacturing delays, and we are told that it's an issue of supply and demand," said Dr. Richard Bronstrom, the health department's TB Control Branch Chief.

The high-risk groups include:

  • Persons with signs and symptoms of active TB disease
  • Contacts exposed to an infectious case of TB
  • High-risk immigrants referred from the Honolulu Quarantine Station
  • Persons with immunodeficiencies
  • Persons who require TB screening due to medical treatment.

Testing only high-risk individuals will mean the department will test just a fraction of the usual number.

"We need between one hundred and two hundred per week, and we have adequate supplies in reserve, emergency reserve, to carry us through to the next 15 or 16 weeks at that number," said Bronstrom.

Meanwhile, others who are usually required to have the tests before they can work won't have to be tested until supplies are available. "The two big ones are the food handler population, and then the students," said Bronstrom. "So students are not going to need to be skin tested from now until 120 days from now."

Hawaii already has the second-highest TB rate in the nation. And the shortage comes about a year after a scare in which more than a hundred people at Hawaii Pacific University and Kapiolani Community College were tested after a student who attended both schools was diagnosed with the disease.

Bronstrom remains confident that Hawaii residents will remain safe from TB, even while testing is curtailed. "We thought long and hard about our plan going forward with this shortage, this nationwide shortage of testing solution. And we wanted to make sure that we were still going to be able to protect the residents of Hawaii with our limited supply of testing materials."

Bronstrom expects supplies to rebound to mid to late summer. Workers whose TB clearances were postponed will then have to take the test.

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