Comparison of two interferon-gamma assays and tuberculin skin test for tracing tuberculosis contacts

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2007 Mar 15;175(6):618-27. doi: 10.1164/rccm.200608-1099OC. Epub 2006 Dec 14.


Background: The tuberculin skin test (TST) has low specificity. QuantiFERON-TB Gold (QFT-G) and T-SPOT.TB are based on interferon (IFN)-gamma responses to Mycobacterium tuberculosis-specific antigens. A novel in-tube format of QFT-G (QFT-GIT) offers logistical advantages.

Objective: To compare TST, QFT-GIT, and T-SPOT.TB in bacillus Calmette-Guérin unvaccinated contacts and correlate results with measures of recent exposure.

Methods: When a supermarket employee with smear-positive tuberculosis had infected most close contacts, a contact investigation among more than 20,000 customers was performed. We recruited subjects randomly on the day of TST administration (n = 469) and subjects with TST of more than 0 mm on the day of TST reading (n = 316). QFT-GIT and T-SPOT.TB were performed. Demographic data and measures of exposure were collected. TST results were analyzed at a cutoff of 10 or 15 mm. Blood tests were interpreted following the manufacturers' criteria and by varying cutoff levels.

Results: Among 785 study participants, TST results were associated with age, whereas positive IFN-gamma responses were significantly associated with cumulative shopping time, most markedly for QFT-GIT. Among participants with a TST of 15 mm or greater, sensitivity of QFT-GIT and T-SPOT.TB was 42.2 and 51.3%, respectively. Interassay agreement was 89.6% (kappa = 0.59). By varying cutoff values, agreement between the IFN-gamma assays was optimal at 93.6% (kappa = 0.71) using a cutoff of 0.20 IU/ml for QFT-GIT and 13 spots for T-SPOT.TB.

Conclusions: Blood test results were associated with exposure, whereas the TST was not. A possible lack of sensitivity of IFN-gamma assays in detecting individuals with TST of 15 mm or greater, despite negative bacillus Calmette-Guérin vaccination status, warrants further investigation into alternative cutoff values.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Contact Tracing*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interferon-gamma / blood*
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Tuberculin Test*
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / blood
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / diagnosis
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / transmission*


  • Interferon-gamma