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BMC Infect Dis. 2014 Sep 23;14:515. doi: 10.1186/1471-2334-14-515.

Screening travellers to high-endemic countries for infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis using interferon gamma release assay; a prospective study.

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Department of Infectious Diseases, Public Health Service (GGD), Nieuwe Achtergracht 100, 1018 WT Amsterdam, the Netherlands.



International travel from low-incidence to high-incidence countries for tuberculosis (TB) is regarded as a risk factor for acquiring TB infection. In this prospective study among long-term travellers we examined the incidence of TB infection using Interferon gamma release assay (IGRA) test and compared these data with results from a visit to the TB department to which all long-term travellers were routinely referred.


Immunocompetent adults, travelling for 13-52 weeks to TB-endemic countries, donated blood pre- and post-travel for IGRA. The pre-travel IGRA was only tested in case of a positive IGRA post-travel. Results from their visit(s) to the TB department for TST pre- and post-travel were collected and compared with study results.


We found two IGRA conversions in a group of 516 travellers, resulting in an attack rate (AR) of 0.4% (95% CI: 0.5 - 13.9) and an incidence rate (IR) of 0.85 per 1000 person-months (95% CI: 0.1-3.1).We found 5 tuberculin skin test (TST) conversions, resulting in AR of 1.9% (5/261; 95% CI: 0.6 - 4.4) and an IR of 4.26 per 1000 person-months (95% CI: 1.38- 9.94). In our study these converters all had a negative IGRA. One traveller however, who was retested later at the TB department due to a positive TST, then appeared to have seroconverted.


The risk of long-term travellers among our study population acquiring TB infection is low. We conclude that post-travel IGRA alone could be used for screening for TB infection among long-term travellers to high-endemic TB countries, but preferably not earlier than 8 weeks after return. One might even argue that IGRA testing should be limited to only those travellers who are going to work in a medical setting. A person with a positive IGRA should be referred to a TB physician for further evaluation.

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