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Rapid diagnosis of Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection in children using interferon-gamma release assays (IGRAs)

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Diagnosis of tuberculosis (TB) in children by the tuberculin skin test (TST) poses a diagnostic challenge for physicians due to its low specificity and cross-reactivity with nontuberculous mycobacteria and bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG). Although interferon-gamma release assays (IGRAs) have been shown as novel TST alternatives for diagnosis of latent TB infection (LTBI) in adults, their effectiveness is less clear in children. The present study examined QuantiFERON-TB Gold (QFT-G) responses and IFN-gamma production capacity of TST-positive children, younger children ≤5 years. A total of 517 children of whom 434 were TST positive ranging in age from 1 month to 18 years were evaluated by the QFT-G. Of the 517 children, 434 (84%) were TST positive, 25 (5.8%) of whom were found to be QFT-G positive and 25 (5.4%) with an indeterminate response. Of the 517 children, 355 (68.7%) were previously BCG immunized and 310/355 (87.3%) were TST positive including 18/27 (66.7%) QFT-positive children. Adequate IFN-gamma production by purified TB peptides or mitogen was observed in 92.8% of children, 29.6% of whom were <5 years. This study shows that the QFT-G assay is useful for diagnosis of LTBI. The finding of 5.8% positive QFT-G in 434 TST-positive children underscores the superior specificity of the QFT-G than the TST and its greater cost effectiveness in preventing unnecessary and potentially toxic treatment in children. The study suggests that the majority of positive TST in children represent false-positive reactions and supports the use of IGRAs for diagnosis of LTBI in children, including those <5 years of age.
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Keywords: BCG; CFP-10; ESAT; Latent tuberculosis; Mycobacterium tuberculosis; children; interferon gamma release assay; mitogen; quantiferon TB gold test; tuberculin skin test

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2012

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  • Allergy and Asthma Proceedings is a peer reviewed publication dedicated to distributing timely scientific research regarding advancements in the knowledge and practice of allergy, asthma and immunology. Its primary readership consists of allergists and pulmonologists.

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    The journal is indexed in Thomson Reuters Web of Science and Science Citation Index Expanded, plus the National Library of Medicine's PubMed service.
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