What Does Tuberculin Reactivity after Bacille Calmette-Guérin Vaccination Tell Us?

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The effect of bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccination on tuberculin reactivity is briefly reviewed. BCG vaccination will almost invariably result in tuberculin conversion with a positive tuberculin skin test developing 4-8 weeks after vaccination. However, these tuberculin reactions will wane—rapidly in all individuals who receive the vaccine in the neonatal period and more slowly in those who are vaccinated at an older age such as during the primary-school years. Of BCG vaccine recipients whose initial tuberculin skin test is negative, 10%-25% will have a positive tuberculin skin test if they are retested within 1-4 weeks—the so-called “booster phenomenon.” There is no relationship between tuberculin reactivity after BCG vaccination and the protective efficacy of the vaccine against development of active tuberculosis. Therefore, the ideal BCG vaccine would produce a scar at the site of injection to identify individuals who have been vaccinated but would have no effect on tuberculin reactivity.

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