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A meta-analysis of the effect of Bacille Calmette Guérin vaccination on tuberculin skin test measurements
  1. L Wang1,
  2. M O Turner1,
  3. R K Elwood1,
  4. M Schulzer1,
  5. J M FitzGerald1,2
  1. 1BC Center for Disease Control Society, Respiratory Division, University of British Columbia, Canada
  2. 2Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Evaluation, Vancouver, Canada
  1. Correspondence to:
    Dr J M FitzGerald, Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Evaluation, VGH Research Pavilion, 828 West 10th Avenue, Vancouver, Canada V5Z 1L8;


Background: The accurate diagnosis of latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI) is an important component of any tuberculosis control programme and depends largely on tuberculin skin testing. The appropriate interpretation of skin test results requires knowledge of the possible confounding factors such as previous BCG vaccination. Uncertainty about the effect of BCG vaccination on tuberculin skin testing and the strength with which recommendations are made to individual patients regarding treatment of LTBI have identified a need to analyse the available data on the effect of BCG on skin testing. A meta-analysis of the evidence for the effect of BCG vaccination on tuberculin skin testing in subjects without active tuberculosis was therefore performed.

Methods: Medline was searched for English language articles published from 1966 to 1999 using the key words “BCG vaccine”, “tuberculin test/PPD”, and “skin testing”. Bibliographies of relevant articles were reviewed for additional studies that may have been missed in the Medline search. Articles were considered for inclusion in the meta-analysis if they had recorded tuberculin skin test results in subjects who had received BCG vaccination more than 5 years previously and had a concurrent control group. Only prospective studies were considered. The geographical location, number of participants, type of BCG vaccine used, type of tuberculin skin test performed, and the results of the tuberculin skin test were extracted.

Results: The abstracts and titles of 980 articles were identified, 370 full text articles were reviewed, and 26 articles were included in the final analysis. Patients who had received BCG vaccination were more likely to have a positive skin test (5 TU PPD: relative risk (RR) 2.12 (95% confidence interval (CI)1.50 to 3.00); 2 TU RT23: 26.50 (95% CI 1.83 to 3.85). The effect of BCG vaccination on PPD skin test results was less after 15 years. Positive skin tests with indurations of >15 mm are more likely to be the result of tuberculous infection than of BCG vaccination.

Conclusions: In subjects without active tuberculosis, immunisation with BCG significantly increases the likelihood of a positive tuberculin skin test. The interpretation of the skin test therefore needs to be made in the individual clinical context and with evaluation of other risk factors for infection. The size of the induration should also be considered when making recommendations for treatment of latent infection.

  • tuberculosis
  • skin testing
  • BCG vaccination
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