IFN-γ release assay conversions and reversions. Challenges with serial testing in U.S. health care workers

Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2014 Mar;11(3):296-302. doi: 10.1513/AnnalsATS.201310-378OC.


Rationale: IFN-γ release assays (IGRAs) including the QuantiFERON-TB gold in-tube test (QFT-GIT) are increasingly used in place of the tuberculin skin test (TST) in surveillance programs for Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection in the United States. However, data on conversions, reversions, and predictive value of QFT in such programs for health care workers (HCWs) are limited.

Objectives: The purpose of this study is to assess long-term reproducibility and conversion and reversion rates of QFT-GIT among HCWs who underwent serial testing at a tertiary care center in the United States.

Methods: Retrospective chart review of HCWs at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System (CAVHS) who underwent serial testing with QFT-GIT as a part of their employee screening between November 1, 2008 and January 31, 2011.

Measurements and main results: A total of 2,303 HCWs had at least 2 QFT-GITs 1 year apart. The initial QFT-GIT was positive for 69 and 2 were indeterminate. Of these 69 HCWs, 31 (45%) reverted on repeat testing, and 25 of 31 (80.6%) HCWs who reverted had a negative look-back TST. Of the 2,232 HCWs with an initial negative QFT-GIT, 71 (3.2%) converted on repeat testing. A third QFT-GIT assay was performed in 41 of the 71 converters and 90% (37 of 41) reverted back to negative. Only two HCWs had TST and QFT-GIT conversion.

Conclusions: Poor IGRA reproducibility and a low predictive value of QFT-GIT conversions indicate that QFT-GIT with current interpretation criteria should not be used for serial screening of U.S. HCWs. Negative TSTs have higher reproducibility than QFT-GIT for serial testing of HCWs in low tuberculosis incidence settings.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Health Personnel*
  • Humans
  • Interferon-gamma Release Tests*
  • Male
  • Mass Screening
  • Middle Aged
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Time Factors
  • Tuberculosis / diagnosis*
  • United States