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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Use of a T cell interferon gamma release assay in the investigation for suspected active tuberculosis in a low prevalence area

Niclas Winqvist12*, Per Björkman1, Ann Norén1 and Håkan Miörner3

Author Affiliations

1 Infectious Disease Research Unit, Department of Clinical Sciences, Lund University, Malmö University Hospital, Malmö, Sweden

2 Regional department of Infectious Disease Control and prevention, Malmö, Sweden

3 Medical microbiology, Department of laboratory medicine, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2009, 9:105  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-9-105

Published: 3 July 2009



In settings with low background prevalence of tuberculosis (TB) infection, interferon-γ release assays (IGRA) could be useful for diagnosing active TB. This study aims to evaluate the performance of QuantiFERON®-TB Gold (QFT-G) in the investigation for suspected active TB, with particular attention to patients originating in high-incidence countries. Furthermore, factors associated with QFT-G results in patients with active TB were assessed.


From patients investigated for clinically suspected active TB, blood was obtained for QFT-G testing, in addition to routine investigations. Positive (PPV) and negative (NPV) predictive values for QFT-G were calculated, comparing patients with confirmed TB and those with other final diagnoses. QFT-G results in TB patients originating from countries with intermediate or high TB incidence were compared with QFT-G results from a control group of recently arrived asymptomatic immigrants from high-incidence countries. Factors associated with QFT-G outcome in patients with confirmed TB were assessed.


Among 141 patients, 41/70 (58.6%) with confirmed TB had a positive QFT-G test, compared to 16/71 (22.6%) patients with other final diagnoses, resulting in overall PPV of 71.9% and NPV of 67.6%. For patients with pulmonary disease, PPV and NPV were 61.1% and 67.7%, respectively, and 90.5% and 66.7% for subjects with extrapulmonary manifestations. Comparing patients from high-incidence countries with controls yielded a PPV for active TB of 76.7%, and a NPV of 82.7%. Patients with confirmed TB and positive QFT-G results were characterized by a lower median peripheral white blood cell count (5.9 × 109/L vs. 8.8 × 109/L; P < 0.001) and a higher median body mass index (22.7 vs. 20.7; P = 0.043) as compared to QFT-G-negative TB patients.


The overall PPV and NPV of QFT-G for identifying active TB were unsatisfactory, especially for pulmonary disease. Thus, the usefulness of QFT-G for this purpose is questionable. However, a high PPV was observed for extrapulmonary TB and QFT-G might be considered in the diagnostic process in this situation. The PPV and NPV for identifying active TB among persons originating from regions with high-and intermediate TB incidence was similar to that observed in subjects originating in the low-incidence region.