Daniel Winetsky and colleagues investigate eight strategies for screening and diagnosis of tuberculosis within prisons of the former Soviet Union.
Prisons of the former Soviet Union (FSU) have high rates of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) and are thought to drive general population tuberculosis (TB) epidemics. Effective prison case detection, though employing more expensive technologies, may reduce long-term treatment costs and slow MDR-TB transmission.
Methods and Findings
We developed a dynamic transmission model of TB and drug resistance matched to the epidemiology and costs in FSU prisons. We evaluated eight strategies for TB screening and diagnosis involving, alone or in combination, self-referral, symptom screening, mass miniature radiography (MMR), and sputum PCR with probes for rifampin resistance (Xpert MTB/RIF). Over a 10-y horizon, we projected costs, quality-adjusted life years (QALYs), and TB and MDR-TB prevalence. Using sputum PCR as an annual primary screening tool among the general prison population most effectively reduced overall TB prevalence (from 2.78% to 2.31%) and MDR-TB prevalence (from 0.74% to 0.63%), and cost US$543/QALY for additional QALYs gained compared to MMR screening with sputum PCR reserved for rapid detection of MDR-TB. Adding sputum PCR to the currently used strategy of annual MMR screening was cost-saving over 10 y compared to MMR screening alone, but produced only a modest reduction in MDR-TB prevalence (from 0.74% to 0.69%) and had minimal effect on overall TB prevalence (from 2.78% to 2.74%). Strategies based on symptom screening alone were less effective and more expensive than MMR-based strategies. Study limitations included scarce primary TB time-series data in FSU prisons and uncertainties regarding screening test characteristics.
In prisons of the FSU, annual screening of the general inmate population with sputum PCR most effectively reduces TB and MDR-TB prevalence, doing so cost-effectively. If this approach is not feasible, the current strategy of annual MMR is both more effective and less expensive than strategies using self-referral or symptom screening alone, and the addition of sputum PCR for rapid MDR-TB detection may be cost-saving over time.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Tuberculosis (TB)—a contagious bacterial disease—is a major public health problem, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. In 2010, about nine million people developed TB, and about 1.5 million people died from the disease. Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes TB, is spread in airborne droplets when people with active disease cough or sneeze. The characteristic symptoms of TB include fever, a persistent cough, and night sweats. Diagnostic tests include sputum smear microscopy (examination of mucus from the lungs for M. tuberculosis bacilli), mycobacterial culture (growth of M. tuberculosis from sputum), and chest X-rays. TB can also be diagnosed by looking for fragments of the M. tuberculosis genetic blueprint in sputum samples (sputum PCR). Importantly, sputum PCR can detect the genetic changes that make M. tuberculosis resistant to rifampicin, a constituent of the cocktail of antibiotics that is used to cure TB. Rifampicin resistance is an indicator of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB), the emergence of which is thwarting ongoing global efforts to control TB.
Why Was This Study Done?
Prisons present unique challenges for TB control. Overcrowding, poor ventilation, and inadequate medical care increase the spread of TB among prisoners, who often come from disadvantaged populations where the prevalence of TB (the proportion of the population with TB) is already high. Prisons also act as reservoirs for TB, recycling the disease back into the civilian population. The prisons of the former Soviet Union, for example, which have extremely high rates of MDR-TB, are thought to drive TB epidemics in the general population. Because effective identification of active TB among prison inmates has the potential to improve TB control outside prisons, the World Health Organization recommends active TB case finding among prisoners using self-referral, screening with symptom questionnaires, or screening with chest X-rays or mass miniature radiography (MMR). But which of these strategies will reduce the prevalence of TB in prisons most effectively, and which is most cost-effective? Here, the researchers evaluate the relative effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of alternative strategies for screening and diagnosis of TB in prisons by modeling TB and MDR-TB epidemics in prisons of the former Soviet Union.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used a dynamic transmission model of TB that simulates the movement of individuals in prisons in the former Soviet Union through different stages of TB infection to estimate the costs, quality-adjusted life years (QALYs; a measure of disease burden that includes both the quantity and quality of life) saved, and TB and MDR-TB prevalence for eight TB screening/diagnostic strategies over a ten-year period. Compared to annual MMR alone (the current strategy), annual screening with sputum PCR produced the greatest reduction in the prevalence of TB and of MDR-TB among the prison population. Adding sputum PCR for detection of MDR-TB to annual MMR screening did not affect the overall TB prevalence but slightly reduced the MDR-TB prevalence and saved nearly US$2,000 over ten years per model prison of 1,000 inmates, compared to MMR screening alone. Annual sputum PCR was the most cost-effective strategy, costing US$543/QALY for additional QALYs gained compared to MMR screening plus sputum PCR for MDR-TB detection. Other strategies tested, including symptom screening alone or combined with sputum PCR, were either more expensive and less effective or less cost-effective than these two options.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that, in prisons in the former Soviet Union, annual screening with sputum PCR will most effectively reduce TB and MDR-TB prevalence and will be cost-effective. That is, the cost per QALY saved of this strategy is less than the per-capita gross domestic product of any of the former Soviet Union countries. The paucity of primary data on some facets of TB epidemiology in prisons in the former Soviet Union and the assumptions built into the mathematical model limit the accuracy of these findings. Moreover, because most of the benefits of sputum PCR screening come from treating the MDR-TB cases that are detected using this screening approach, these findings cannot be generalized to prison settings without a functioning MDR-TB treatment program or with a very low MDR-TB prevalence. Despite these and other limitations, these findings provide valuable information about the screening strategies that are most likely to interrupt the TB cycle in prisons, thereby saving resources and averting preventable deaths both inside and outside prisons.
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001348.
The World Health Organization provides information (in several languages) on all aspects of tuberculosis, including general information on tuberculosis diagnostics and on tuberculosis in prisons; a report published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization in 2006 describes tough measures taken in Russian prisons to slow the spread of TB
The Stop TB Partnership is working towards tuberculosis elimination; patient stories about tuberculosis are available (in English and Spanish)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information about tuberculosis, about its diagnosis, and about tuberculosis in prisons (some information in English and Spanish)
A PLOS Medicine Research Article by Iacapo Baussano et al. describes a systematic review of tuberculosis incidence in prisons; a linked editorial entitled The Health Crisis of Tuberculosis in Prisons Extends beyond the Prison Walls is also available
The Tuberculosis Survival Project, which aims to raise awareness of tuberculosis and provide support for people with tuberculosis, provides personal stories about treatment for tuberculosis; the Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative also provides personal stories about dealing with tuberculosis
MedlinePlus has links to further information about tuberculosis (in English and Spanish)