Immunologic diagnosis of tuberculosis: a review

Tuber Lung Dis. 2000;80(3):131-40. doi: 10.1054/tuld.2000.0243.


The diagnosis of tuberculosis (TB) principally rests on the sputum examination and culture. However, the sensitivity of sputum smear for acid-fast bacteria is only approximately 50% and sputum culture has a relatively long turnaround time. As a result, a number of studies have been conducted in an attempt to find a rapid and accurate diagnostic test for TB. They include serological assays against various mycobacterial antigens. Here we review the merits and deficiencies of the serological tests for TB. In general, serological assays have a high negative predictive value, making them potentially useful as a screening test to rule out active TB although in HIV-positive individuals, low sensitivity and low negative predictive value compromises the accuracy of the seroassays in this group of individuals. In populations where the prevalence of latent TB infection is high, the relatively low positive predictive value of the tests reduces their specificity for active TB. Furthermore, the higher costs and greater training required in performing these tests makes it important that future studies also assess whether their use affects patient outcomes in management of TB.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • AIDS-Related Opportunistic Infections / diagnosis
  • AIDS-Related Opportunistic Infections / immunology
  • Humans
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / immunology
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / isolation & purification
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Serologic Tests
  • Sputum / microbiology
  • Time Factors
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / diagnosis*
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / immunology