BACKGROUND: Tuberculosis (TB) case finding efforts typically target symptomatic people attending health facilities. We compared the prevalence of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) sputum culture-positivity among adult clinic attendees in rural South Africa with a concurrent, community-based estimate from the surrounding demographic surveillance area (DSA).
METHODS: Clinic: Randomly-selected adults (≥18 years) attending two primary healthcare clinics were interviewed and requested to give sputum for mycobacterial culture. HIV and antiretroviral therapy (ART) status were based on self-report and record review. Community: All adult (≥15 years) DSA residents were invited to a mobile clinic for health screening, including serological HIV testing; those with ≥1 TB symptom (cough, weight loss, night sweats, fever) or abnormal chest radiograph were asked for sputum.
RESULTS: Clinic: 2,055 patients were enrolled (76.9% female, median age 36 years); 1,479 (72.0%) were classified HIV-positive (98.9% on ART) and 131 (6.4%) reported ≥1 TB symptom. Of 20/2,055 (1.0% [95% CI 0.6-1.5]) with Mtb culture-positive sputum, 14 (70%) reported no symptoms. Community: 10,320 residents were enrolled (68.3% female, median age 38 years); 3,105 (30.3%) tested HIV-positive (87.4% on ART) and 1,091 (10.6%) reported ≥1 TB symptom. Of 58/10,320 (0.6% [95% CI 0.4-0.7]) with Mtb culture-positive sputum, 45 (77.6%) reported no symptoms.In both surveys, sputum culture positivity was associated with male sex and reporting >1 TB symptom.
CONCLUSIONS: In both clinic and community settings, most participants with Mtb culture-positive sputum were asymptomatic. TB screening based only on symptoms will miss many people with active disease in both settings.