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Self-Assessment of Tuberculin Skin Test Reactions by New York City Firefighters: Reliability and Cost-Effectiveness in an Occupational Health Care Setting

David J. Prezant, MD; Kerry J. Kelly, MD; Manoj L. Karwa, MD; and Kathryn Kavanagh, BS
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From the New York City Fire Department, Bureau of Health Services, New York, New York; Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center, Bronx, New York; and Staten Island University Hospital, Staten Island, New York. Acknowledgments: The authors thank the administration and uniformed service personnel of the New York City Fire Department for their cooperation and encouragement; the physicians and nurses of the New York City Fire Department's Bureau of Health Services for advice and help with data collection; Drs. C. Jones, J. Scheuer, T.K. Aldrich, J. Casey, and M. Catalano for encouragement and advice in study design; Ms. B. Einstein for database instruction; and Mr. Colin Jost for data entry. Grant Support: By a research fellowship grant from the New York Lung Association (Dr. Karwa). Requests for Reprints: David J. Prezant, MD, Montefiore Medical Center, Pulmonary Division, Centennial 423, Bronx, NY 10467. Current Author Addresses: Drs. Prezant and Karwa: Montefiore Medical Center, Pulmonary Division, Centennial 423, Bronx, NY 10467.


Copyright ©2004 by the American College of Physicians


Ann Intern Med. 1996;125(4):280-283. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-125-4-199608150-00004
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Objective: To determine whether self-assessment of purified protein derivative of tuberculin (PPD) skin test reactions, done using a simple two-choice approach, is an effective screening method for tuberculosis.

Design: Double-blind comparison between self-assessments and trained professional readings of PPD skin test reactions, done 72 hours after test administration.

Setting: The New York City Fire Department's Bureau of Health Services

Participants: 2011 New York City firefighters and fire officers were given PPD skin tests during a mandatory retraining course. Thirty-seven persons were excluded because of a history of a positive PPD skin test result or a bacille Calmette–Guérin vaccination. All others agreed to participate in testing and self-assessment done using simple written instructions. Self-assessment results were submitted just before trained professional readings were done.

Measurements: Self-assessments and trained professional readings of PPD skin test reactions.

Results: 1833 participants (91%) interpreted their test reactions as flat. Of these interpretations, 1824 (99.5%) matched the professional reading and 9 (0.5%) did not. One hundred seventy-eight participants (9%) interpreted their test reactions as not flat; 136 of these interpretations (76.4%) matched the professional reading and 42 (23.6%) did not (κ = 0.828; lower 95% confidence limit = 0.790). The predictive value of a negative self-assessment reading was 99.5%, and the specificity was 97.7%.

Conclusion: In this occupational health care setting, we follow (and recommend to others with similar populations) a tuberculin screening program based on self-assessment. Repeated tests with follow-up are required for all persons who do not report their results. All persons with self-assessments of “not flat” should return for readings by trained professionals, counseling, and treatment.

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