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The Utility of a Single Sputum Specimen in the Diagnosis of Tuberculosis : Comparison Between HIV-Infected and Non-HIV-Infected Patients

Derel Finch; Christopher D. Beaty
Author and Funding Information

Affiliations: From the Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC,  From the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle

Affiliations: From the Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC,  From the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle


1997 by the American College of Chest Physicians


Chest. 1997;111(5):1174-1179. doi:10.1378/chest.111.5.1174
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Abstract

Study objectives: (1) To assess the utility of a single sputum specimen in the evaluation of HIV-infected patients who are suspected of having tuberculosis (TB). (2) To identify radiographic findings that discriminate between HIV-infected patients with TB and those with pneumonia of other causes.

Design: Retrospective cohort analysis.

Patients: All patients evaluated at Harborview Medical Center, Seattle, between January 1986 and July 1994 in whom culture of respiratory secretions grew Mycobacterium tuberculosis or Mycobacterium avium-complex. Patients who were coinfected with HIV formed the primary study group. Their chest radiographs were then compared with those of a matched group of patients with pneumonia of other causes.

Measurements and results: We identified 164 patients with TB, 20 of whom were HIV infected. The initial sputum specimen grew M tuberculosis in all HIV-infected patients and 99% of non-HIV-infected patients. Seventy percent of HIV-infected and 71% of non-HIV-infected patients had at least one positive smear. Most of these patients tested positive on their initial smear, and no significant difference was found between HIV-positive and HIV-negative patients (79% and 90%, respectively [p=0.34]). The addition of a second sputum smear identified all HIV-infected patients and all but one in non-HIV-infected patients who were ultimately determined to be smear positive. A total of 27 HIV-infected patients had a positive acid-fast bacilli sputum smear during the study period, 14 of which were attributable to TB (specificity=52%). The only radiographic findings that discriminated between HIV-infected patients with TB and those with pneumonia of other causes were the presence of cavitation or a miliary pattern (p=0.014).

Conclusions: A single sputum specimen was sufficient to establish the diagnosis in all HIV-infected patients with pulmonary TB. A single negative sputum smear made the diagnosis of TB significantly less likely. However, a minimum of two smears were necessary to achieve an acceptable early diagnostic yield. The presenting chest radiograph failed to discriminate between HIV-infected patients with TB and pneumonia of other causes in most cases.


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