Sputum Specimens for Acid Fast Smear and Culture

Suspicion of Active TB

Notify the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department (Health Department) if active TB is suspected or of any positive AFB smear or culture.

Phone: (253) 798-6410 or confidential fax (253) 798-7666.

Patients without Insurance

  • Contact Peggy Cooley, RN (253) 798-2861, or Matthew Rollosson, RN (253) 798-6052.
  • They will contact the patient to arrange the drop off and pick up of sputum collection cups.
  • Testing will be done at the Washington State Public Health Lab at no charge to the patient.

Patients with Insurance

  • Container
    • Use a sterile container, such as a sputum or urine cup and mark the container at the 5 mL level.
    • Educate the patient to expectorate at least 5 mLs (1 tsp) of sputum.
    • Label each container with the date of collection, the patient’s name, date of birth, and other information as required by the laboratory.
  • Patient Instructions
    • Instruct the patient to collect specimens on three consecutive days, with at least two specimens collected in the early morning (secretions build up while the patient is sleeping).
    • A Patient Education Sheet with sputum collection instructions can be found on this website.
  • Ordering
    • Submit each specimen to the laboratory for “AFB (acid-fast bacilli) smear and culture”
  • Results
    • Depending on the laboratory, smear results are generally available within 24–48 hours.
    • Depending on the laboratory, final culture results are generally available within 6–8 weeks.
  • Ruling Out Active Tuberculosis (TB)
    • Active TB is ruled out when all final culture results are negative and there is no remaining clinical suspicion.
    • Latent TB treatment should not be initiated until active TB has been ruled out.