Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Screening for latent tuberculosis infection among undocumented immigrants in Swiss healthcare centres; a descriptive exploratory study

Patrick Bodenmann1*, Paul Vaucher1, Hans Wolff2, Bernard Favrat1, Fanny de Tribolet3, Eric Masserey4 and Jean-Pierre Zellweger1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Ambulatory Care and Community Medicine, University of Lausanne, Switzerland

2 Department of Community Medicine, Geneva University Hospital, Switzerland

3 Point d'Eau, Vulnerable Population Urban Healthcare Centre, Lausanne, Switzerland

4 Department of Public Health, Canton of Vaud, Switzerland

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2009, 9:34  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-9-34

Published: 24 March 2009



Migration is one of the major causes of tuberculosis in developed countries. Undocumented patients are usually not screened at the border and are not covered by a health insurance increasing their risk of developing the disease unnoticed. Urban health centres could help identify this population at risk. The objective of this study is to assess the prevalence of latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI) and adherence to preventive treatment in a population of undocumented immigrant patients.


All consecutive undocumented patients that visited two urban healthcare centres for vulnerable populations in Lausanne, Switzerland for the first time were offered tuberculosis screening with an interferon-γ assay. Preventive treatment was offered if indicated. Adherence to treatment was evaluated monthly over a nine month period.


Of the 161 participants, 131 (81.4%) agreed to screening and 125 had complete examinations. Twenty-four of the 125 patients (19.2%; CI95% 12.7;27.2) had positive interferon-γ assay results, two of which had active tuberculosis. Only five patients with LTBI completed full preventive treatments. Five others initiated the treatment but did not follow through.


Screening for tuberculosis infection in this hard-to-reach population is feasible in dedicated urban clinics, and the prevalence of LTBI is high in this vulnerable population. However, the low adherence to treatment is an important public health concern, and new strategies are needed to address this problem.