The tuberculin skin test (TST) has been the mainstay of tuberculosis (TB) testing in primates for decades, but its interpretation in orangutans (Pongo spp.) is challenging, because many animals react strongly, without evidence of infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex. One explanation is cross-reactivity with environmental nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM). The use of a comparative TST (CTST), comparing reactivity to avian (representing NTM) and bovine (representing tuberculous mycobacteria) tuberculins aids in distinguishing cross-reactivity due to sensitization by NTM from shared antigens. The specificity of the TST can be increased with the use of CTST. We considered three interpretations of the TST in rehabilitant Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) using avian purified protein derivative (APPD; 25,000 IU/ml) and two concentrations of bovine purified protein derivative (BPPD; 100,000 and 32,500 IU/ml). The tests were evaluated for their ability to identify accurately seven orangutans previously diagnosed with and treated for TB from a group of presumed negative individuals (n = 288 and n = 161 for the two respective BPPD concentrations). BPPD at 32,500 IU/ml had poor diagnostic capacity, whereas BPPD at 100,000 IU/ml performed better. The BPPD-only interpretation had moderate sensitivity (57%) and poor specificity (40%) and accuracy (41%). The comparative interpretation at 72 hr had similar sensitivity (57%) but improved specificity (95%) and accuracy (94%). However, best results were obtained by a comparative interpretation incorporating the 48- and 72-hr scores, which had good sensitivity (86%), specificity (95%) and accuracy (95%). These data reinforce recommendations that a CTST be used in orangutans and support the use of APPD at 25,000 IU/ml and BPPD at 100,000 IU/ml. The highest score at each site from the 48- and 72-hr checks should be considered the result for that tuberculin. If the bovine result is greater than the avian result, the animal should be considered a TB suspect.
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