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Pediatrics. 2014 Dec;134(6):e1763-73. doi: 10.1542/peds.2014-2983.

Interferon-γ release assays for diagnosis of tuberculosis infection and disease in children.


Tuberculosis (TB) remains an important problem among children in the United States and throughout the world. Although diagnosis and treatment of infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis (also referred to as latent tuberculosis infection [LTBI] or TB infection) remain the lynchpins of TB prevention, there is no diagnostic reference standard for LTBI. The tuberculin skin test (TST) has many limitations, including difficulty in administration and interpretation, the need for a return visit by the patient, and false-positive results caused by significant cross-reaction with Mycobacterium bovis-bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccines and many nontuberculous mycobacteria. Interferon-γ release assays (IGRAs) are blood tests that measure ex vivo T-lymphocyte release of interferon-γ after stimulation by antigens specific for M tuberculosis. Because these antigens are not found on M bovis-BCG or most nontuberculous mycobacteria, IGRAs are more specific tests than the TST, yielding fewer false-positive results. However, IGRAs have little advantage over the TST in sensitivity, and both methods have reduced sensitivity in immunocompromised children, including children with severe TB disease. Both methods have a higher positive predictive value when applied to children with risk factors for LTBI. Unfortunately, neither method distinguishes between TB infection and TB disease. The objective of this technical report is to review what IGRAs are most useful for: (1) increasing test specificity in children who have received a BCG vaccine and may have a false-positive TST result; (2) using with the TST to increase sensitivity for finding LTBI in patients at high risk of developing progression from LTBI to disease; and (3) helping to diagnose TB disease.


bacille Calmette-Guerin; interferon-γ release assay; tuberculin skin test; tuberculosis

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