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Clin Infect Dis. 2009 Feb 1;48(3):302-12. doi: 10.1086/595847.

Use of T cell-based diagnosis of tuberculosis infection to optimize interpretation of tuberculin skin testing for child tuberculosis contacts.

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Department of Paediatrics, Marmara University School of Medicine, Istanbul, Turkey.



Treatment of recent tuberculosis infection in children aged <2 years is essential, because of high risk of progression to disease, but diagnosis is hindered by the inaccuracy of the tuberculin skin test (TST). More-accurate T cell-based tests of infection could enhance diagnosis by optimizing interpretation of the TST results.


A total of 979 child tuberculosis contacts in Istanbul underwent the TST and enzyme-linked immunospot assay. Using enzyme-linked immunospot test results as a reference standard, we assessed the effect of age and bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccination on the sensitivity and specificity of the TST, and we computed the optimal TST cutoff points, using receiver operating characteristic curves.


With a TST cutoff point of >or=10 mm, the sensitivity of the TST was 66% for children aged <2 years, which was lower than that for older children (P= .006). Specificity was 75% for BCG-vaccinated children, compared with 92% for unvaccinated children (P= .001). Optimal cutoff points improved TST specificity for children with 1 BCG scar, with little loss of sensitivity. Despite the use of optimal cutoff points, TST sensitivity remained <70% for children aged <2 years, specificity remained <87% for BCG-vaccinated children aged >or=2 years, and overall accuracy was low for children with >1 BCG scar.


Negative results of the TST cannot exclude tuberculosis infection for child tuberculosis contacts aged <2 years, which supports the use of preventive therapy regardless of the TST results for this age group. In children aged >or=2 years, the accuracy of the TST can be improved by adjustment of cutoff points for BCG-vaccinated children but remains poor for children with >1 BCG scar. This methodology can define optimal TST cutoff points for diagnosis of tuberculosis infection tailored to target populations.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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