Morning Call (Allentown, PA) (04.16.13)
Recently, Federal health officials announced a shortage of the tuberculin skin test made by Sanofi Pasteur and that the shortage was expected to continue until the end of May. The shortage may disrupt health care and employment in Allentown County, Pa. according to Allentown Health Bureau Director Vicky Kistler. The test is normally administered to individuals before they can work in certain jobs, such as health care providers and volunteers at some programs. Kistler also explained that immigrants needing health care are routinely checked for TB. In addition, a most important use of the skin test is to check contacts of a person who was diagnosed with active TB to determine if the contacts are infected. TB can lie dormant in the lungs for years, making testing important for people with compromised immune systems, according to the National Institutes of Health.
As a result of the shortage, the Allentown Health Bureau has suspended routine testing and will only test family members or others in close contact with an individual who has been identified with an active case of TB. Kistler noted that some people may not be hired because of the lack of testing as some jobs require the applicant to present a valid skin test. She explained that the Bureau does more than 1,000 tests a month. The shortage is also affecting medical providers. Brian Downs, spokesperson for Lehigh Valley Health Network, commented that its staff is saving skin tests for the most at-risk patient and recommending blood tests for others.
Sue Madeja, director of nursing, said that the Bethlehem Health Bureau has not restricted testing. According to Madeja, the Bureau distributes about 200 skin tests a year and has an adequate supply remaining. Also, she added, a laboratory in New England donated blood tests for uninsured individuals. Madeja explained that the blood test is not used routinely because of cost. The skin test costs about $15, while the blood test costs approximately $70 to $100.
Sanofi Pasteur issued a brief statement acknowledging that its skin test, Tubersol, is unavailable and that the company expects it to become available again by the end of May. Another company, JHP Pharmaceuticals of Parsippany, N.J., also provides TB skin tests approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, but according to CDC, its supply is available in "restricted quantity," and shortages are expected to become more widespread.
The state has sent a memo to home care and home health providers, notifying them of the shortage and recommending alternatives.