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Free Content Are we justified in treating for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis based on positive follow-up smear results?

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SETTING: National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis, India.

OBJECTIVE:To assess, among new culture-confirmed smear-positive pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) patients, the proportion of follow-up smear-positives that were culture-negative (S+C-) by month of follow-up examination, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) status, pre-treatment drug susceptibility status and smear grading.

DESIGN: We extracted follow-up smear (fluorescence microscopy) and culture (Löwenstein-Jensen) results of patients enrolled in clinical trials from January 2000 to August 2012 and treated with the WHO Category I regimen (2EHRZ3/4HR3).

RESULTS: Of 520 patients, including 176 who were HIV-infected, respectively 199, 81, 47 and 43 were smear-positive at months 2, 4, 5 and 6; of these, respectively 138 (69%), 62 (75%), 32 (68%) and 27 (63%) were culture-negative. The S+C- phenomenon was more pronounced among ‘1+ positive' patients than in 2+ or 3+ positive patients and in ‘pan-susceptible' patients than in those with any resistance, and did not vary by HIV status.

CONCLUSION: Nearly two thirds of patients with follow-up smears positive at months 5 and 6 were culture-negative. Starting multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) treatment empirically based on smear results, even in resource-limited settings, is incorrect and can have hazardous consequences. There is an urgent need to revisit the WHO recommendation concerning empirical MDR-TB treatment.
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Keywords: S+C- phenomenon; empiric MDR-TB treatment; pulmonary tuberculosis; sputum culture; sputum smear

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis, Chennai, India 2: International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, South-East Asia Regional Office, New Delhi, India; 3: Desmond Tutu TB Centre, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa

Publication date: April 1, 2014

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  • The International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease publishes articles on all aspects of lung health, including public health-related issues such as training programmes, cost-benefit analysis, legislation, epidemiology, intervention studies and health systems research. The IJTLD is dedicated to the continuing education of physicians and health personnel and the dissemination of information on tuberculosis and lung health world-wide.

    Certain IJTLD articles are selected for translation into French, Spanish, Chinese or Russian. They are available on the Union website

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