Our results indicate that AFB smear grade is independently associated with tuberculosis recurrence after successful treatment for an initial episode while the association between polyclonal M. tuberculosis infection and increased risk of recurrence appears possible.
We enrolled 500 patients with smear-positive pulmonary tuberculosis in South Africa and collected baseline data on demographics, clinical presentation and sputum mycobacterial cultures for 24-loci mycobacterial interspersed repetitive unit-variable number tandem repeat (MIRU-VNTR) typing. We used routinely-collected administrative data to identify recurrent episodes of tuberculosis occurring over a median of six years after successful treatment completion.
Of 500 patients initially enrolled, 333 (79%) successfully completed treatment for tuberculosis. During the follow-up period 35 patients with successful treatment (11%) experienced a bacteriologically confirmed tuberculosis recurrence. In our Cox proportional hazards model, a 3+ AFB sputum smear grade was significantly associated with recurrent tuberculosis with a hazard ratio of 3.33 (95% CI 1.44-7.7). The presence of polyclonal M. tuberculosis infection at baseline had a hazard ratio for recurrence of 1.96 (95% CI 0.86-4.48).
People successfully completing treatment for tuberculosis remain at elevated risk for recurrent disease, either from relapse or reinfection. Identifying risk factors for recurrent tuberculosis may help target post-tuberculosis screening and care.