In a prospective study, Stephen Lawn and colleagues find that pre-ART screening with Xpert MTB/RIF increased tuberculosis case detection by 45% compared to smear microscopy in HIV-positive patients at high risk of TB risk. AE competing interests must also pull through to the proof. “The Academic Editor, Madhukar Pai, declares that he consults for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). The BMGF supported FIND which was involved in the development of the Xpert MTB/RIF assay. He also co-chairs the Stop TB Partnership's New Diagnostics Working Group that was involved in the WHO endorsement of the Xpert assay.” Linked: Scott pmed.1001061; Evans pmed.1001064; Dowdy pmed.1001063
The World Health Organization has endorsed the Xpert MTB/RIF assay for investigation of patients suspected of having tuberculosis (TB). However, its utility for routine TB screening and detection of rifampicin resistance among HIV-infected patients with advanced immunodeficiency enrolling in antiretroviral therapy (ART) services is unknown.
Methods and Findings
Consecutive adult HIV-infected patients with no current TB diagnosis enrolling in an ART clinic in a South African township were recruited regardless of symptoms. They were clinically characterised and invited to provide two sputum samples at a single visit. The accuracy of the Xpert MTB/RIF assay for diagnosing TB and drug resistance was assessed in comparison with other tests, including fluorescence smear microscopy and automated liquid culture (gold standard) and drug susceptibility testing. Of 515 patients enrolled, 468 patients (median CD4 cell count, 171 cells/µl; interquartile range, 102–236) produced at least one sputum sample, yielding complete sets of results from 839 samples. Mycobacterium tuberculosis was cultured from 81 patients (TB prevalence, 17.3%). The overall sensitivity of the Xpert MTB/RIF assay for culture-positive TB was 73.3% (specificity, 99.2%) compared to 28.0% (specificity, 100%) using smear microscopy. All smear-positive, culture-positive disease was detected by Xpert MTB/RIF from a single sample (sensitivity, 100%), whereas the sensitivity for smear-negative, culture-positive TB was 43.4% from one sputum sample and 62.3% from two samples. Xpert correctly identified rifampicin resistance in all four cases of multidrug-resistant TB but incorrectly identified resistance in three other patients whose disease was confirmed to be drug sensitive by gene sequencing (specificity, 94.1%; positive predictive value, 57%).
In this population of individuals at high risk of TB, intensive screening using the Xpert MTB/RIF assay increased case detection by 45% compared with smear microscopy, strongly supporting replacement of microscopy for this indication. However, despite the ability of the assay to rapidly detect rifampicin-resistant disease, the specificity for drug-resistant TB was sub-optimal.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Tuberculosis (TB)—a contagious bacterial infection that mainly affects the lungs—is a leading cause of illness and death among people who are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS by destroying the immune system, which leaves infected individuals susceptible to other infections. TB is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which is spread in airborne droplets when people with the disease cough or sneeze. Its symptoms include a persistent cough, weight loss, and night sweats. Diagnostic tests for TB include chest X-rays, sputum smear analysis (microscopic examination of mucus coughed up from the lungs for M. tuberculosis bacilli), and mycobacterial liquid culture (the growth of M. tuberculosis from sputum and determination of its drug sensitivity). TB can be cured by taking several drugs daily for six months, although the recent emergence of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) is making the disease increasingly hard to treat.
Why Was This Study Done?
TB is a major problem in clinics that provide antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV-positive people in resource-limited settings. Not only is it a major cause of sickness and mortality in those affected by it, but TB (especially MDR-TB) can also spread to other patients attending the same clinic for health services. Rapid diagnosis and appropriate treatment are very important to reduce these risks. Unfortunately, sputum smear analysis—the mainstay of TB diagnosis in resource-limited settings—only detects about a fifth of TB cases when used as a screening tool before initiating ART. Chest X-rays are costly and don't always detect TB, and liquid culture—the gold standard method for TB diagnosis—is costly, technically difficult, and slow. Consequently, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently endorsed a new test for the investigation of patients suspected of having TB, especially in regions where HIV infection and MDR-TB are common. Xpert MTB/RIF is an automated DNA test that detects M. tuberculosis and DNA differences that make the bacteria resistant to the drug rifampicin (an indicator of MDR-TB) within 2 hours. In this study, the researchers investigate whether Xpert MTB/RIF could be used as a routine screening test to increase TB detection among HIV-positive people initiating ART.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers collected sputum from HIV-infected adults with no current TB diagnosis enrolling at an ART clinic in a South African township where HIV infection and TB are both common. They then compared the diagnostic accuracy of Xpert MTB/RIF (performed at a centralized laboratory) with that of several other tests, including liquid culture (the reference test). Nearly a fifth of the patients had culture-positive TB. Xpert MTB/RIF identified three-quarters of these patients (a sensitivity of 73.3%). By contrast, the sensitivity of smear microscopy was 28%. The new test's specificity (the proportion of patients with a negative Xpert MTB/RIF result among patients without TB) was 99.2%. That is, Xpert MTB/RIF had a low false-positive rate. Notably, Xpert MTB/RIF detected all cases of smear-positive, culture-positive TB but only 43.4% of smear-negative, culture-positive cases from a single sputum sample; it detected 62.3% of such cases when two sputum samples were analyzed. Finally, Xpert MTB/RIF correctly identified rifampicin resistance in all four patients who had MDR-TB but incorrectly identified resistance in three patients with drug-sensitive TB.
What Do These Findings Mean?
In this population of HIV-positive patients with a high TB risk, pre-ART screening with Xpert MTB/RIF increased case detection by 45% compared to smear microscopy, a finding that needs confirming in other settings. Importantly, Xpert MTB/RIF reduced the delay in diagnosis of TB from more than 20 days to two days. This delay would be reduced further by doing the assay at ART clinics rather than at a centralized testing facility, but the diagnostic accuracy of point-of-care testing needs evaluating. Overall, these findings (and those of an accompanying article by Scott et al. that examines the performance of Xpert MTB/RIF in an area where HIV infection is common) support the replacement of smear microscopy with Xpert MTB/RIF for pre-ART TB screening (provided misdiagnosis of rifampicin resistance can be reduced). These findings also suggest that routine screening with Xpert MTB/RIF could reduce the risk of MDR-TB outbreaks in HIV care and treatment settings and improve outcomes for HIV-positive patients with MDR-TB who currently often die before a diagnosis of TB can be made.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001056.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Carlton Evans; a related PLoS Medicine Research Article by Scott et al. is also available
WHO provides information (in several languages) on all aspects of tuberculosis, including general information on tuberculosis diagnostics and specific information on the Xpert MTB/RIF test; further information about WHO's endorsement of Xpert MTB/RIF is included in a recent Strategic and Technical Advisory Group for Tuberculosis report
WHO also provides information about tuberculosis and HIV
The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has detailed information on tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has information about tuberculosis, including information on the diagnosis of and on tuberculosis and HIV co-infection
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on HIV-related tuberculosis (in English and Spanish)