Interferon gamma release assay for differentiating tuberculosis among pneumonia cases in acute healthcare setting

J Infect. 2011 Jun;62(6):440-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jinf.2011.04.011. Epub 2011 May 1.


Objectives: Early diagnosis of smear-negative tuberculosis remains challenging. The role of an interferon-gamma release assay (IGRA) in discriminating active pulmonary tuberculosis (PTB) among cases of 'pneumonia' was investigated.

Methods: Consecutive patients admitted to an acute hospital in Hong Kong (intermediate TB burden) during 2006-2008 because of pneumonia and suspected PTB were recruited for IGRA (Quantiferon-TB Gold, QFN-G) study. Diagnosis of tuberculosis was confirmed by mycobacterial culture or histology.

Results: Altogether 179 patients were recruited (median (IQR) age 59 (44-75), 68.7% male); active PTB was confirmed in 63 (35.2%). Among the AFB-smear-negative 'pneumonias' (n = 152), age>50 (OR 0.27, 95% CI 0.09-0.84), absence of weight loss (OR 0.30, 95% CI 0.10-0.88), and negative IGRA (OR 0.08, 95% CI 0.03-0.25) were independently associated with lower risks of PTB. The overall sensitivity, specificity, positive and negative predictive values for the IGRA in diagnosing active PTB were 60%, 87%, 72% and 80% respectively. Among smear-negative 'pneumonias' (n = 152), the performance values of IGRA were 64%, 87%, 62% and 88% respectively; in the absence of characteristic clinical or radiographic features of PTB, the negative predictive value (NPV) improved to 90-95%.

Conclusions: The high NPV of QFN-G among smear-negative 'pneumonias' can be useful for risk stratification in hospitalized patients suspected of PTB. Further investigation on the role of these assays in patient management is warranted.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Clinical Laboratory Techniques / methods*
  • Critical Care / methods*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Female
  • Hong Kong
  • Humans
  • Immunoassay / methods
  • Interferon-gamma / drug effects
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / isolation & purification
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / diagnosis*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / diagnosis*


  • Interferon-gamma