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Open Access Research article

Referrals for positive tuberculin tests in new health care workers and students: a retrospective cohort study

Yining Xu12 and Kevin Schwartzman12*

Author Affiliations

1 Montreal Chest Institute, Rm K1.21, 3650 St. Urbain St, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H2X 2P4

2 McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:28  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-28

Published: 20 January 2010



Documentation of test results for latent tuberculosis (TB) infection is important for health care workers and students before they begin work. A negative result provides a baseline for comparison with future tests. A positive result affords a potential opportunity for treatment of latent infection when appropriate. We sought to evaluate the yield of the referral process for positive baseline tuberculin tests, among persons beginning health care work or studies.


Retrospective cohort study. We reviewed the charts of all new health care students and workers referred to the Montreal Chest Institute in 2006 for positive baseline tuberculin skin tests (≥10 mm). Health care workers and students evaluated for reasons other than positive baseline test results were excluded.


630 health care students and workers were evaluated. 546 (87%) were foreign-born, and 443 (70%) reported previous Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccination. 420 (67%) were discharged after their first evaluation without further treatment. 210 (33%) were recommended treatment for latent TB infection, of whom 165 (79%) began it; of these, 115 (70%) completed adequate treatment with isoniazid or rifampin. Treatment discontinuation or interruption occurred in a third of treated subjects, and most often reflected loss to follow-up, or abdominal discomfort. No worker or student had active TB.


Only a small proportion of health care workers and students with positive baseline tuberculin tests were eligible for, and completed treatment for latent TB infection. We discuss recommendations for improving the referral process, so as to better target workers and students who require specialist evaluation and treatment for latent TB infection. Treatment adherence also needs improvement.