Stands for Bacillus Calmette-Guérin, named after the 2 Frenchmen who developed the attenuated strain of M. bovis in 1921. It’s used widely in the 3rd World, was routine in Western Europe until just a few years ago, & was never adopted in the U.S. We refer to the vaccine simply as “BCG”.
BCG is like sourdough bread, one batch is used as a “starter” to prepare another. As such, there’s no standardization in terms of potency. And every country seems to have a different schedule as to age of immunization & numbers of boosters.
BCG can cause a response to PPD testing. The amount of induration depends on how long after the last BCG dose, how many boosters had been placed, & simple individual variation. But in general, BCG easily causes <10 mm of induration (interpreted as “negative” in terms of TB). It might occasionally cause 10-15 mm, and rarely >15.
As such, the CDC says to ignore a history of BCG Vaccine when interpreting a PPD response. In terms of mere probabilities, if a person from a high-prevalence country (e.g. the 3rd World) tests >10 mm by PPD, the chances that the reaction represents true Latent TB Infection, vs. BCG effect, weigh enormously on the side of TB.
A meta-analysis of 26 studies (out of >1200) found that among children, BCG confers approximately 50% protection for TB overall, 64% for TB meningitis, & 71% for death. In poor countries, it’s life-saving. Since BCG may confound PPD testing, and the incidence of childhood TB in the US is so low, it’s rarely indicated (perhaps for children in a household with drug-resistant TB).
The Interferon-Gamma Release Assay (IGRA), like QuantiFERON® and T-Spot.TB®, are very specific for Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and don’t react to BCG.