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Am J Med. 1996 Feb;100(2):186-92.

Tuberculin skin test reactivity, anergy, and HIV infection in hospitalized patients. Longcope Firm of the Osler Medical Housestaff.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.



Detection of latent tuberculosis infection is an important step in the control of tuberculosis because high-risk persons may be given preventive therapy. The value of tuberculin skin testing in individuals with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, however, is limited by anergy. We evaluated the prevalence of tuberculin skin test reactivity, anergy, and HIV infection in a group of hospitalized patients in an area where both tuberculosis and HIV infection are prevalent.


Three hundred fifty-one patients consecutively admitted to a medical service of a large urban teaching hospital were enrolled in the study. All those with no documented history of a positive tuberculin skin test were evaluated on admission with purified protein derivative (PPD) by the Mantoux test, and with anergy testing using a multiple-puncture device. HIV testing was offered to all patients who did not have a known history of HIV infection, and was performed when informed consent was obtained.


Forty-one patients (12%) had a documented history of a positive PPD. Of the remaining 310 patients, 62 (20%) had a PPD response of > or = 10 mm induration. Fifty-two (15%) of the 351 patients were HIV positive. None of the HIV-infected patients was PPD positive. Anergy was found in 63% of the HIV-infected patients and 28% of the HIV-seronegative patients. Independent risk factors for a positive PPD included age > 55, male sex, and hypertension. HIV infection, current steroid use, and a history of cancer were associated with a negative PPD. Independent risk factors for anergy included HIV infection, current corticosteroid use, renal failure pneumonia, and a history of cancer. Of the 62 new PPD-positive patients, 30 (48%) were candidates for chemoprophylaxis. Additionally, 30 (63%) of 48 HIV-seropositive patients who were completed testing were anergic and might be candidates for chemoprophylaxis. Almost all of the patients eligible for chemoprophylactic therapy would have been detected if only patients at increased risk for developing tuberculosis were screened.


Tuberculosis infection, HIV infection, and anergy were common in patients admitted to this medical service. Interpretation of PPD reactivity was confounded by a high prevalence of anergy, particularly in HIV-infected patients. A large proportion of patients tested were candidates for chemoprophylaxis. Routine tuberculin skin testing with anergy testing for high-risk patients on admission to the hospital is useful for identifying patients who might benefit from prophylaxis to help control the spread of tuberculosis.

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