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Extended report
Screening for latent tuberculosis infection: performance of tuberculin skin test and interferon-γ release assays under real-life conditions
  1. S Kleinert1,
  2. H-P Tony1,
  3. K Krueger2,
  4. J Detert3,
  5. F Mielke4,
  6. K Rockwitz5,
  7. R Schwenke6,
  8. G R Burmester3,
  9. R Diel7,
  10. M Feuchtenberger1,
  11. C Kneitz8
  1. 1Rheumatology/Clinical Immunology, University Hospital of Wuerzburg, Wuerzburg, Germany
  2. 2Praxiszentrum St Bonifatius München, München, Germany
  3. 3Department of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, a joint institution of the Freie Universität Berlin and the Humboldt – Universität zu, Berlin, Germany
  4. 4Gemeinschaftspraxis Innere Medizin, Dres Mielke, Berlin, Germany
  5. 5Schwerpunktpraxis Innere Medizin/Rheumatologie/Osteologie, Goslar, Germany
  6. 6Schwerpunktpraxis Innere Medizin/Rheumatologie/Osteologie, Dresden, Germany
  7. 7Department of Pulmonary Medicine, Hannover Medical School, Hannover, Germany
  8. 8Klinikum Südstadt Rostock, Klinik für Innere Medizin II, Rostock, Germany
  1. Correspondence to Stefan Kleinert, Medizinische Klinik und Poliklinik II, Universitätsklinikum Würzburg, Rheumatologie/Klinische Immunologie, Oberdürrbacherstr 6, 97080, Würzburg, Germany; Kleinert_S{at}


Objectives To characterise optimal screening strategies for latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI) prior to the initiation of anti-tumour necrosis factor therapy.

Methods Patients in 62 German rheumatology centres were evaluated for LTBI. Each patient was screened with a tuberculin skin test (TST) and one form of an interferon-γ release assay (IGRA), either TSPOT.TB (TSPOT) or Quantiferon TB Gold (QFT).

Results A total of 1529 patients with rheumatological disease were tested with a TST, 844 with TSPOT and 685 with QFT. TST was positive in 11.3% (n=173). The prevalence of LTBI was 8.0% when defined as a positive TST and no previous Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccination and 7.9% when based on a positive IGRA. Combining both estimates increased the prevalence of LTBI to 11.1%. Clinical risk factors for LTBI were found in 122 patients (34 with a history of prior TB, 81 close contacts and 27 with suggestive chest x-ray lesions). A compound risk factor (CRF) was defined as the presence of at least one of these three risk factors. Statistical analyses were conducted to examine the association between CRF and LTBI test outcomes. In multivariate analysis, TST was influenced by CRF (OR 6.2; CI 4.08 to 9.44, p<0.001) and BCG vaccination status (OR 2.9; CI 2.00 to 4.35, p<0.001). QFT and TSPOT were only influenced by CRF (QFT: OR 2.6; CI 1.15 to 5.98, p=0.021; TSPOT: OR 8.7; CI 4.83 to 15.82, p<0.001). ORs and the agreement of TST and IGRA test results varied by rheumatological disease.

Conclusion LTBI test results in an individual patient need to be considered in the context of prior BCG vaccination and clinical risk factors. In patient populations with low rates of TB incidence and BCG vaccination, the use of both TST and IGRA may maximise sensitivity in detecting LTBI but may also reduce specificity.

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  • Competing interests SK and CK received a research grant from Abbott. SK has received speakers' fees from Abbott, Chugai, Roche and Essex. HPT has received speakers' or consulting fees from Abbott, Roche and Wyeth and a research grant from Chugai. GRB has received research grants, consulting and speakers' fees from Abbott. RD has received travel reimbursement and/or fees for speaking at symposia sponsored by Cellestis Ltd., Oxford Immunotec Ltd. and Pharmore Ltd. (exclusive supplier of Tuberculin RT23 for Germany). CK has received speakers' or consulting fees from Abbott, Chugai, MSD, Oxford Immunotec, Roche and Pfi zer. JD has received research grants from Abbott, Pfi zer.

  • Funding The work was funded by an unrestricted grant from Abbott GmbH used to support the conduct of the study, data analysis and editing and review of the manuscript.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Correction notice This article has been corrected since it was published Online First.