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Special Communication
April 19, 2000

The Case Against Anergy Testing as a Routine Adjunct to Tuberculin Skin Testing

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Medicine, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tenn (Drs Slovis and Haas); and High Point Gastroenterology Associates, High Point, NC (Dr Plitman).

JAMA. 2000;283(15):2003-2007. doi:10.1001/jama.283.15.2003

Although anergy testing is commonly used to help interpret negative tuberculin skin test results, the validity of this approach has not been demonstrated. Specific issues include lack of a standardized protocol for antigen selection, number needed to reliably evaluate inability to respond, and uniform criteria for defining cutaneous reactivity, as well as regional variation in skin test reactivity. Tuberculin skin testing is used to screen for latent infection and to evaluate the need for isoniazid prophylaxis. The presence or absence of reactivity to control antigens does not affect this decision. The results of anergy testing also do not predict the risk for progression to active disease in either HIV-negative or HIV-positive patients. In HIV-negative patients with active tuberculosis, 10% to 20% have negative tuberculin test results, and 5% to 10% have a negative tuberculin result but have a positive reaction to another antigen. A negative tuberculin skin test result does not exclude either latent infection or active disease, even in the presence of a reaction to other antigens. Neither anergy testing nor tuberculin testing obviates the need for microbiologic evaluation when there is suspicion for active tuberculosis infection. Therefore, anergy testing is not useful in screening for asymptomatic tuberculous infection or for diagnosing active tuberculosis.

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