Background: Currently, T-cell based gamma interferon (IFNγ) release assays (IGRAs) are acknowledged as the best methods available for the screening of latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI) and also as aid for the diagnosis of active tuberculosis (TB). To our information, the performance of these diagnostic tests has not been evaluated in Ethiopia. Therefore, the intent of this study was to evaluate the performance of QuantiFERON-TB Gold In-Tube (QFTGIT) in patients clinically suspected of active pulmonary TB (PTB) as well as in healthy subjects prior to its utilization for the epidemiological study of active TB and LTBI in Afar pastoralists.
Methods: The sensitivity of QFTGIT was evaluated in 140 subjects who were clinically suspected of PTB using the cut-off value recommended by the manufacturer (≥ 0.35 IU/ml) and disease-specific cut-off value. Sputum culture result was used as a gold standard. The specificity of the test was evaluated both in patients and in 55 tuberculin skin test (TST) negative healthy subjects.
Results: Out of the 140 study participants, 37 (26.4%) were positive for active PTB by culture. Out of the 37 subjects who had positive results by culture, 6 individuals were HIV-seropositive. Out of the 103 subjects who were negative by culture, 6 subjects had indeterminate results and 21 were HIV-seropositive. The performance of the test was assessed using data from 107 (31 culture positive and 76 culture negative) individuals who were clinically suspected of PTB and HIV-seronegatives. Using the manufacturer recommended cut-off value, the sensitivity of the test was 64.5% (20/31), while its specificity was 36.8% (28/76). The sensitivity of the test was increased to 77.4%, while the specificity was reduced to 23.7% using a cut-off value ≥ 0.1 IU/ml of IFNγ as disease-specific cut-off value. In TST negative healthy subjects, the specificity of the test was 58.2%.
Conclusion: Our findings revealed a low sensitivity of QFTGIT in the diagnosis of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) infection in the present study area using the cut-off value recommended by the manufacturer. Nevertheless, the sensitivity increased from 64.5% to 77.4% by lowering the cut-off value recommended by the manufacturer to ≥ 0.1 IU/ml of IFNγ level. Hence, it is of practical importance to evaluate the performance of QFTGIT in population under different settings prior to its application either for the diagnosis of active TB or LTBI.