Tzanck Smears

A Tzanck smear refers to a smear prepared from a skin vesicle (blister) in a patient who has bullous disease. The physician (usually a dermatologist) will rupture a vesicle, collect the fluid, and smear it onto a glass slide. The purpose of the Tzanck test is to identify viral inclusions within the vesicle.


  1. The physician should decide whether the material will be air-dried or fixed in alcohol. Either method of preparation is acceptable.
  2. For air-drying, dry the slide rapidly by waving it in the air. For alcohol fixation, fix the smear rapidly either with a spray fixative or by pouring alcohol on the slide from an alcohol pouch.
  3. Label the slide with the patient’s name.
  4. Clearly indicate on the requisition form if the specimen has been air-dried or fixed in alcohol, because this determines how we stain the slide in the laboratory.
  5. Place the slide in a secure plastic or cardboard slide container to avoid breakage.
  6. Complete the Calpath cytology requisition form per the instructions.

After collecting the specimen, please do the following:

  • Place the specimen in the Calpath specimen bag.
  • Place the requisition form in the side slot of the Calpath specimen bag.
  • Call Calpath for a pickup or place the Calpath specimen bag in the location where our courier usually picks up your daily specimens.