Maternal and Child Health Journal

, Volume 11, Issue 6, pp 603–610 | Cite as

Using State Lead Poisoning Surveillance System Data to Assess False Positive Results of Capillary Testing

  • Meredith K. Anderson
  • MaryAnn Amrich
  • Kathy L. Decker
  • Cynthia A. Mervis
Original Paper


Objective: The purpose of this study was to determine the false positive percentage of capillary blood lead screening in a statewide surveillance system and to explore potential predictors of false positive results.

Methods: Data were all blood lead tests of 0–5 year old children in Maine during 2002–2003. We determined the proportion of children with elevated (≥10 μg/dL) capillary test results who received a venous confirmatory test, and calculated the percentage of false positive tests, defined as a capillary test of ≥10 μg/dL with a confirmatory venous test of <10 μg/dL. Multivariable binomial regression was used to determine whether capillary blood lead level and length of time between capillary and venous tests predicted false positive results, after controlling for potential confounders. We also examined the positive bias of the capillary test among both false positive and true positive results.

Results: Seventy-three percent of elevated capillary screening tests (2.2 percent of all capillary screening tests) were false positives. False positive results were less likely for capillary levels of 15–19 μg/dL (RR=0.78; 95% CI 0.5–0.92) and 20 μg/dL or above (RR=0.83; 95% CI 0.71–0.96) compared to 10–14 μg/dL. The percentage of false positives did not vary by interval between screening and confirmatory tests. The capillary test exhibited a positive bias compared to the venous test, even among true positive results.

Conclusions: False positive results may have been caused by sample contamination, rather than laboratory error or true variation in blood lead level between screening and confirmatory tests. Capillary screening could be improved by training in proper sample collection methods.


Lead poisoning Screening False positives 



The authors gratefully acknowledge Katie Meyer, ScD, for technical and editorial assistance, Chris Paulu, ScD, for sharing his modifications to the rural/urban classification system, and Andrew Smith, SM, ScD, for guidance and assistance in data presentation. This study was supported in part by an appointment to the Applied Epidemiology Fellowship Program administered by the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Cooperative Agreement U60/CCU007277.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Meredith K. Anderson
    • 1
  • MaryAnn Amrich
    • 2
  • Kathy L. Decker
    • 3
  • Cynthia A. Mervis
    • 3
  1. 1.North Carolina Center for Public Health Preparedness, North Carolina Institute for Public HealthUNC Chapel Hill School of Public HealthChapel HillUSA
  2. 2.Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention ProgramMaine Center for Disease Control and PreventionAugustaUSA
  3. 3.Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention/University of Southern MaineAugustaUSA

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