Tuberculosis can be a difficult disease to diagnose, due mainly to the difficulty in culturing this slow-growing organism in the laboratory. A complete medical evaluation for TB must include a medical history, a chest X-ray, and a physical examination. Tuberculosis radiology is used in the diagnosis of TB. It may also include a tuberculin skin test, a serological test, microbiological smears and cultures. The interpretation of the tuberculin skin test depends upon the person's risk factors for infection and progression to TB disease, such as exposure to other cases of TB or immunosuppression.
Currently, latent infection is diagnosed in a non-immunized person by a tuberculin skin test, which yields a delayed hypersensitivity type response to purified protein derivatives of M. tuberculosis. Those immunized for TB or with past-cleared infection will respond with delayed hypersensitivity parallel to those currently in a state of infection and thus the test must be used with caution, particularly with regard to persons from countries where TB immunization is common. New TB tests are being developed that offer the hope of cheap, fast and more accurate TB testing. These use polymerase chain reaction detection of bacterial DNA and antibody assays to detect the release of interferon gamma in response to mycobacteria. Rapid and inexpensive diagnosis will be particularly valuable in the developing world.