Introduction The screening and treatment of individuals presenting with latent tuberculous infection (LTBI), at high risk of progression to active tuberculosis (ATB), are key elements in the battle against tuberculosis, both in France and in many parts of the world. Though the finding of tubercle bacilli is the essential examination for the diagnosis of ATB, there is no indisputable test for LTBI.
Background The help currently given to the diagnosis of LTBI by the degree of positivity of the tuberculin skin test (TST) is limited, both operationally and logistically, in populations vaccinated with BCG or sensitised by atypical mycobacteria, and by its low sensitivity in those immuno-suppressed persons who are at greatest risk of progression. Moreover the TST has other operational limitations linked to return visits, repeat testing causing a boosting effect and subjective interpretation. A new approach follows the availability of two biological tests for the diagnosis of LTBI (QuantiFERON-TB and T- SPOT-TB) that measure the in-vitro production of interferon gamma (IFN-gamma) by the blood mononuclear cells in response to M.tuberculosis specific antigens (ESAT-6 and CFP10).This revue analyses the published studies, undertaken with varying numbers of patients, that evaluate the diagnostic accuracy of these two tests in comparison with TST. However, validation is handicapped by the lack of a “gold standard” for the diagnosis of LTBI. These studies demonstrate similar levels of specificity for the two biological tests. They are statistically higher than those for TST, particularly in populations vaccinated by BCG. On the other hand, their sensitivity was at least equivalent to that of TST and, in certain studies, superior with T- SPOT-TB. Finally, several studies in contacts have been undertaken with the aim of measuring the concordance between these biological tests and TST. The essential finding is of a very good correlation between positivity of the biological tests and the degree of exposure of the contacts. These tests have additional operational advantages over TST: completed in one visit, results available in 24 hours, absence of inter and intra observer divergence, detection of potential immuno-depression and avoidance of boosting by repeat testing.
Viewpoint Currently, however, these biological tests present several operational limits: lower sensitivity in severe disease, incomplete data in immuno-suppressed subjects and in children, lack of predictive value for future development of ATB, lack of distinction between LTBI and ATB. Numerous clinical studies are under way, in France and elsewhere, in order to reduce these limitations and to allow the appropriate incorporation of these tests into protocols for the diagnosis of tuberculosis.
Conclusions These two biological tests should, in the near future, replace or complement TST in the diagnosis of recent LTBI, leading to their optimal incorporation into the decision making processes of the national plans for the control of tuberculosis.
Latent tuberculous infection
In vitro tuberculin test
© 2007 Elsevier Masson SAS. Tous droits réservés.