Among casual contacts of tuberculosis (TB) patients, to assess how duration of contact, prior mycobacterial exposure, and performance of one or two tuberculin skin tests (TST), affect the likelihood that a positive TST represents conversion.
Published estimates of mycobacterial prevalence and BCG coverage, and their effect on single or repeated TSTs, were used to calculate baseline prevalence of TST reactions in four populations commonly encountered in North American contact investigations. Using published estimates of hourly risk of TB infection, the probability that a positive TST represented conversion was calculated.
Among casual contacts with 20 hours of exposure, the likelihood that a single positive TST performed after 8 weeks represented conversion was 77% in persons from populations with low prior mycobacterial exposure, but only 6-8% in foreign-born populations. If tuberculin testing was performed immediately and then again 8 weeks post-exposure, 14-38% of all positive tests would be due to boosting, related to prior exposure to mycobacteria or BCG. If one TST, performed 8 weeks after exposure, was positive in casual contacts from populations with high prevalence of prior mycobacterial exposures, the likelihood of true conversion was less than 40%, even after 200 hours of exposure.
A single TST performed 8 weeks after the end of exposure among casual contacts will detect all true conversions, and minimize misdiagnosis due to boosting. The decision to perform TST on casual contacts should consider the likelihood of prior mycobacterial exposure in the population, as well as the duration of exposure.