Long-Term Care and Retirement Home: Recommendations for Tuberculosis (TB) Screening

nurse helping an older man

The Long Term Care Homes Act 2007, Ontario Regulation 79/10, and Retirement Homes Act 2010, Ontario Regulation 166/11, require screening for tuberculosis.


The emerging standard of care in Ontario dictates the all new residents must undergo a history and physical examination by a physician/nurse practitioner. This assessment must include:

  1. A chest x-ray (posterior-anterior and lateral) taken within 90 days prior to admission to the facility. If the chest x-ray indicates potential active pulmonary TB disease, the resident should not be admitted until three sputum samples taken at least one hour apart are submitted to the Public Health Lab for testing (Acid Fast Bacilli and Culture) and the results are negative. Note: It can take up to 8 weeks for a culture report.
  2. A symptom review for active pulmonary TB disease within 90 days prior to admission or within 14 days after admission. If signs and symptoms indicate potential active pulmonary TB disease see Management of Residents with Suspected Active TB Disease.
  3. In addition to the above, for residents < 65 years of age who are previously skin test negative or unknown, a 2-step tuberculin skin test (TST) must be done within 90 days of admission or within 14 days after admission. If the TST is positive, treatment of latent TB infection (LTBI) should be considered. A TST is not recommended for residents with a previous positive TST.

Tuberculin skin tests are not recommended to be done upon admission for residents 65 years of age or older. If a TST was previously done, record the date and result of the most recent TST.

Special Circumstances

In the event that CCAC identifies an individual in crisis requiring immediate admission and a chest x-ray (CXR) cannot be completed, CCAC will complete a symptom review. If the symptom review is positive, the individual must be referred to a physician for follow-up. If the symptom review is negative for active TB, the individual may be considered for admission and the CXR completed within 14 days.

Management of Residents with Suspected Active TB Disease

If at any time, active pulmonary TB disease is suspected in a resident, the individual should be isolated immediately. This involves placing the resident in a single room, keeping the door closed, limiting interactions with staff and visitors and ensuring appropriate personal respiratory protection (i.e. have resident wear a surgical mask, if tolerated while others are in the room; N95 masks are recommended for staff ). Immediate steps should be taken to ensure appropriate medical care, investigation and follow-up according to facility policies and procedures. The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit should be notified and consulted regarding next steps.

Recommendations for Residents admitted to Short Term Care of less than 3 months (e.g. Respite care)

Residents in facilities for short term care should receive an assessment and symptom review by the facility or a physician/nurse practitioner to rule out active pulmonary TB, within 90 days prior to admission or within 14 days after admission.  If the symptom review indicates potential active pulmonary TB disease, a chest x-ray must be obtained and active TB disease ruled out.  A TST for residents in short term care is not recommended.

Reporting Requirements for Tuberculosis

Under the Health Promotion and Protection Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.7, diagnoses of TB infection and cases of suspect and confirmed active TB disease are reportable to Public Health. For information on how to report or to ask for advice related to TB infection or TB disease, please contact the nurses in the TB Program at 519 258-2146 ext. 1777.

Employees and Volunteers

The latest TST must be completed within 2 months before starting work or within 14 days of starting work. If the individual is 65 years of age or older, a CXR and symptom assessment, rather than a TST is recommended. 

Requirements for Contract Workers and Students

Supplying agencies or schools are responsible for pre-placement TB assessment and follow-up. This should be clarified with agencies or schools to confirm that individual contract workers and/or students have had their TB skin test and any additional assessment as needed to rule out TB disease prior to starting the placement.

Regular Screening for Employees and Volunteers

Annual TB skin testing is not recommended. Annual chest x-rays are also not recommended in the assessment of positive reactors. If an infectious case of active TB disease occurs in the facility, contact follow-up will be coordinated by the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit. TB skin testing is free for persons identified as a contact of a case of TB disease. Medication for treatment of TB infection and TB disease is free through the Health Unit.

Long-Term Care and Retirement Homes: Frequently Asked Questions About TB

The Canadian TB Standards advises that residents of Long-Term Care Institutions undergo baseline posterior-anterior and lateral chest x-rays. If the resident has documented results of a prior TST, these should be transcribed into their record.

Routine TSTs upon admission are no longer recommended for clients 65 years of age and older. As people reach old age, the TST may become increasingly unreliable and difficult to interpret. In this population, the TST may not become positive even after a significant TB exposure. As well, unless there is a documented 2-step TST on record, testing after exposure may result in the "boosting effect" being misinterpreted as a true conversion.

Most critically, even for elderly individuals who do convert to a positive TST following a TB exposure, prophylaxis is often not possible, due to their decreased ability to tolerate the hepatotoxicity of Isoniazid (INH).

For an elderly person exposed to infectious TB, the most important follow-up is ruling out active TB via careful evaluation of symptoms, CXR, and where indicated, three sputum samples taken at least one hour apart.

Clients under 65 years of age who have a positive TST are more likely to be candidates for TB prophylaxis. In addition to the symptom review for active pulmonary TB disease and chest x-rays, a 2-step TST is required for those less than 65 years of age, unless a previous TST is known to be positive.

This consists of 2 TSTs usually performed within one to four weeks of each other. A 2-step TST, rather than a single TST, is generally only indicated at the initial assessment of someone who will have repeat TSTs at regular intervals. For example, a 2-step TST is recommended for health care workers at the start of employment, to help reduce the chance of a newly-positive TST in the future being misinterpreted as conversion when the TST is repeated. The 2-step TST needs to be performed only once if properly done and documented.

Over decades, the immune response (i.e., a positive TST) related to a remote TB or BCG exposure can go "dormant". A single TST may elicit a negative result; however, re-stimulates the immune recognition so that a second TST at a later time will elicit a much greater response. The reason for a 2-step TST is to detect this "booster effect" at the beginning of TST monitoring (using a 2-step TST), as otherwise it could be confused later with a true TST conversion.

Prior to transfer, the resident should be carefully reassessed for signs and symptoms of active TB, including failure to thrive. This should also include a review of the chest x-ray previously done upon admission to the facility or any more recent radiology. You may wish to use the active TB screening checklist for clinicians to guide the symptom and chest x-ray review. If there are any indications of possible active TB, a repeat chest x-ray, sputum testing, and any other necessary investigations should be done to rule out active pulmonary TB disease before the resident is transferred.

According to the Canadian TB Standards, the first and second step of a 2-step TST should be done one to four weeks apart. Less than 1 week does not allow enough time to elicit the phenomenon, more than 4 weeks allows the possibility of a true TST conversion to occur if the person had an exposure to infectious TB in the interim. However, the second test can be accepted up to one year later, as long as no exposure to active TB occurred within that year.

If the previous TST result was positive (≥ 10 mm), no further skin testing should be done. The person should proceed with a physical exam and a chest x-ray to rule out active TB disease. If the previous TST was negative, another 1-step can now be done and accepted as the second step of a 2-step TST as long as it is within a one year period from the time of the first step. It is important to assess the likelihood that the employee was exposed to active TB since the last TST. If an exposure is suspected, the second TST should be done at least eight weeks after the TB exposure, in order to provide a reliable baseline for future assessments.

Yes. If the resident has symptoms suggestive of active TB (i.e., cough lasting longer than two weeks, unexplained weight loss, fever, chills, night sweats, fatigue), a current chest x-ray should be done to rule out active pulmonary TB disease. In addition, three sputum samples should be collected at least one hour apart and submitted to the Public Health Laboratory for testing (Acid Fast Bacilli and Culture). Before admitting the resident, all sputum results should be negative and active pulmonary TB disease ruled out. If the resident has already been admitted to the facility, refer to the Recommendations for TB Screening in Long-Term Care and Retirement Homes, specifically the section regarding "Management of Residents with Suspected Active TB Disease".

Yes. TB skin testing is required for staff who received BCG vaccines in the past. People vaccinated with BCG may have a positive TB skin test if the BCG was given after infancy. However, it is also possible for the positive TST was caused by TB infection, especially if the person was born in or travelled to a country with high rates of TB. It is worth remembering that countries with much higher rates of TB than Canada also use BCG routinely. Thus, adults with a positive skin test who had a BCG vaccination should still be carefully evaluated for possible latent TB infection (LTBI), and offered treatment for LTBI if appropriate.

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