Roche Biomedical Laboratories Inc. (RBL), part of the Roche Diagnostics Group,announced Thursday the availability of its rapid test for tuberculosis.

The 48-hour assay uses polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology to pick up thebacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis in sputum and other respiratory specimens. Thestandard bacterial culture test for TB takes about three to six weeks.

The PCR-based test will not replace the tuberculosis skin test, which is used to screenlarge numbers of people, said Bruce McCreedy, director of PCR-based clinical testing forthe Burlington, N.C., company.

The incidence of tuberculosis in the U.S. has increased by 15.5 percent since 1984,said James Powell, RBL’s president. And new multidrug-resistant TB strains haveappeared.

“Much of the increased incidence being reported today occurs in HIV-infectedpersons whose weakened immune systems increase their risk of developingtuberculosis,“ said Powell.