The tuberculin skin test is unreliable in school children BCG-vaccinated in infancy and at low risk of tuberculosis infection

Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2011 Sep;30(9):754-8. doi: 10.1097/INF.0b013e31821b8f54.


Background: The tuberculin skin test (TST) is often used to screen for latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI) in school children, many of whom were bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG)-vaccinated in infancy. The reliability of the TST in such children is unknown.

Methods: TSTs performed in low-risk BCG-vaccinated and -nonvaccinated grade 1 and grade 6 First Nations (North American Indian) school children in the province of Alberta, Canada, were evaluated retrospectively. To further assess the specificity of the TST, BCG-vaccinated children with a positive TST (≥10 mm of induration) and no treatment of LTBI were administered a QuantiFERON-TB Gold In-Tube test (QFT-GIT, Cellestis International).

Results: A total of 3996 children, 2063 (51.6%) BCG-vaccinated and 1933 (48.4%) BCG-nonvaccinated, were screened for LTBI. Vaccinated children were more likely than nonvaccinated children to be TST positive (5.7% vs. 0.2%, P < 0.001). Vaccinated children with a positive TST were more likely to have a recent past TST as compared with those with a negative TST (6.8% versus 2.8%, P = 0.01). Among 65 BCG-vaccinated TST-positive children who underwent a QFT-GIT, only 5 (7.7%; 95% CI: 2.5%, 17.0%) were QFT-GIT positive. A TST of ≥15 mm was more likely to be associated with a positive QFT-GIT than a TST of 10 to 14 mm, 16.0% (95% CI: 4.5%, 36.1%) versus 2.5% (95% CI: 0.1%, 13.2%), P = 0.047.

Conclusion: The TST is unreliable in school children, BCG-vaccinated in infancy, and who are at low risk of infection. The QFT-GIT is a useful confirmatory test for LTBI in BCG-vaccinated TST-positive school children.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • BCG Vaccine* / immunology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Latent Tuberculosis / immunology
  • Latent Tuberculosis / prevention & control
  • Male
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / immunology
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tuberculin Test*
  • Tuberculosis / immunology
  • Tuberculosis / prevention & control*
  • Vaccination


  • BCG Vaccine