Haileyesus Getahun and colleagues report the development of a simple, standardized tuberculosis (TB) screening rule for resource-constrained settings, to identify people living with HIV who need further investigation for TB disease.
The World Health Organization recommends the screening of all people living with HIV for tuberculosis (TB) disease, followed by TB treatment, or isoniazid preventive therapy (IPT) when TB is excluded. However, the difficulty of reliably excluding TB disease has severely limited TB screening and IPT uptake in resource-limited settings. We conducted an individual participant data meta-analysis of primary studies, aiming to identify a sensitive TB screening rule.
Methods and Findings
We identified 12 studies that had systematically collected sputum specimens regardless of signs or symptoms, at least one mycobacterial culture, clinical symptoms, and HIV and TB disease status. Bivariate random-effects meta-analysis and the hierarchical summary relative operating characteristic curves were used to evaluate the screening performance of all combinations of variables of interest. TB disease was diagnosed in 557 (5.8%) of 9,626 people living with HIV. The primary analysis included 8,148 people living with HIV who could be evaluated on five symptoms from nine of the 12 studies. The median age was 34 years. The best performing rule was the presence of any one of: current cough (any duration), fever, night sweats, or weight loss. The overall sensitivity of this rule was 78.9% (95% confidence interval [CI] 58.3%–90.9%) and specificity was 49.6% (95% CI 29.2%–70.1%). Its sensitivity increased to 90.1% (95% CI 76.3%–96.2%) among participants selected from clinical settings and to 88.0% (95% CI 76.1%–94.4%) among those who were not previously screened for TB. Negative predictive value was 97.7% (95% CI 97.4%–98.0%) and 90.0% (95% CI 88.6%–91.3%) at 5% and 20% prevalence of TB among people living with HIV, respectively. Abnormal chest radiographic findings increased the sensitivity of the rule by 11.7% (90.6% versus 78.9%) with a reduction of specificity by 10.7% (49.6% versus 38.9%).
Absence of all of current cough, fever, night sweats, and weight loss can identify a subset of people living with HIV who have a very low probability of having TB disease. A simplified screening rule using any one of these symptoms can be used in resource-constrained settings to identify people living with HIV in need of further diagnostic assessment for TB. Use of this algorithm should result in earlier TB diagnosis and treatment, and should allow for substantial scale-up of IPT.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
In 2009, 1.7 million people died from tuberculosis (TB)—equating to 4,700 deaths a day—including 380,000 people living with HIV. TB remains the most common cause of death in people living with HIV and compared to people without HIV, people living with HIV are more than 20 times more likely to develop TB. Furthermore, TB infection may occur at any stage of HIV disease and is often the initial presentation of underlying HIV infection. Without antiretroviral treatment, up to 50% of people living with HIV who are diagnosed with TB die during the 6–8 months of TB treatment.
Although antiretroviral treatment can reduce the incidence of TB both at the individual and population level, people living with HIV on antiretroviral treatment still have higher TB incidence rates and a higher risk of dying from TB. Therefore, the World Health Organization recommends regular screening for active TB disease in all people living with HIV, so those identified as having active TB disease can be provided with appropriate treatment, and isoniazid preventive therapy (to help mitigate TB morbidity, mortality, and transmission) can be given to vulnerable individuals who do not yet have active TB.
Why Was This Study Done?
There is currently no internationally accepted evidence-based tool to screen for TB in people living with HIV—a serious gap given that the presenting signs and symptoms of TB in people living with HIV are different from those in people without HIV. Therefore, the researchers aimed to develop a simple, standardized TB screening rule for resource-constrained settings, on the basis of the best available evidence that would adequately distinguish between people living with HIV who are very unlikely to have TB from those who require further investigation for TB disease.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers selected 12 studies that met their strict criteria, then asked the authors of these studies for primary data so that they could map individual-level data to identify five symptoms common to most studies. Using a statistical model, the researchers devised 23 screening rules derived from these five symptoms and used meta-analysis methods (bivariate random-effects meta-analysis) and the association of study-level and individual-level correlates (hierarchical summary relative operating characteristic curves) to evaluate the sensitivity and specificity of each tool used in each individual study.
The authors of the selected studies were able to provide data for 29,523 participants, of whom 10,057 were people living with HIV. The dataset included 9,626 people living with HIV who had TB screening and sputum culture performed, of which 8,148 individuals could be evaluated on the five symptoms of interest from nine of 12 studies. TB disease was diagnosed in 5.8% of people living with HIV and the best performing rule was the presence of any one of the following: current cough (any duration), fever, night sweats, or weight loss. The overall sensitivity of the rule was 78.9% and the specificity was 49.6%. However, the sensitivity of the rule increased to 90.1% among participants selected from clinical settings and to 88.0% among those who were not previously screened for TB.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The results of this study suggest that in resource-constrained settings, the absence of current cough, fever, night sweats, and weight loss (all inclusive) can identify those people living with HIV who have a low probability of having TB disease. Furthermore, any one of these symptoms can be used in resource-constrained settings to identify people living with HIV who are in need of further diagnostic assessment for TB.
Despite the limitations of the methodology used in this study, until there are evidence-based and internationally recommended guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of TB in people living with HIV, use of the algorithm developed and presented in this study could result in earlier TB diagnosis and treatment for people living with HIV and could help to substantially scale-up isoniazid preventive therapy.
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000391.
The World Health Organization has information about TB in people living with HIV
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also provide information about TB and HIV coinfection
The World Health Organization also has information about isoniazid preventative therapy
The Stop TB Partnership's TB/HIV Working Group provide information about TB and HIV co-infection