New approaches in the diagnosis and treatment of latent tuberculosis infection

Respir Res. 2010 Dec 3;11(1):169. doi: 10.1186/1465-9921-11-169.


With nearly 9 million new active disease cases and 2 million deaths occurring worldwide every year, tuberculosis continues to remain a major public health problem. Exposure to Mycobacterium tuberculosis leads to active disease in only ~10% people. An effective immune response in remaining individuals stops M. tuberculosis multiplication. However, the pathogen is completely eradicated in ~10% people while others only succeed in containment of infection as some bacilli escape killing and remain in non-replicating (dormant) state (latent tuberculosis infection) in old lesions. The dormant bacilli can resuscitate and cause active disease if a disruption of immune response occurs. Nearly one-third of world population is latently infected with M. tuberculosis and 5%-10% of infected individuals will develop active disease during their life time. However, the risk of developing active disease is greatly increased (5%-15% every year and ~50% over lifetime) by human immunodeficiency virus-coinfection. While active transmission is a significant contributor of active disease cases in high tuberculosis burden countries, most active disease cases in low tuberculosis incidence countries arise from this pool of latently infected individuals. A positive tuberculin skin test or a more recent and specific interferon-gamma release assay in a person without overt signs of active disease indicates latent tuberculosis infection. Two commercial interferon-gamma release assays, QFT-G-IT and T-SPOT.TB have been developed. The standard treatment for latent tuberculosis infection is daily therapy with isoniazid for nine months. Other options include therapy with rifampicin for 4 months or isoniazid + rifampicin for 3 months or rifampicin + pyrazinamide for 2 months or isoniazid + rifapentine for 3 months. Identification of latently infected individuals and their treatment has lowered tuberculosis incidence in rich, advanced countries. Similar approaches also hold great promise for other countries with low-intermediate rates of tuberculosis incidence.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antitubercular Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Latent Tuberculosis / diagnosis*
  • Latent Tuberculosis / therapy*
  • Molecular Diagnostic Techniques / trends*


  • Antitubercular Agents