Study objectives: To investigate the relationship between the number of negative acid-fast bacilli (AFB) smear results and infectivity of pulmonary tuberculosis (TB).
Design: Retrospective analysis.
Methods and subjects: We examined 122 index cases in Harris County, TX, reported in 1998 and 1999. All cases had only negative AFB smear results during the infectious period and were categorized in two groups: group A consisted of cases with only one or two sputum specimens collected and processed, and group B consisted of cases with at least three sputum specimens or at least one bronchoscopic specimen. Tuberculin skin test (TST) results of contacts were ascertained from the results of contact investigations performed by the City of Houston Department of Health and Human Services, Tuberculosis Control Division. Univariate and multivariate analyses were done to explore index case and contact attributes associated with tuberculosis (TB) transmission using positive TST results of contacts as a measure of recent transmission.
Results: We found male gender and younger age of index cases along with Hispanic ethnicity of contacts to be independently associated with positive TST results, while younger contacts were less likely to be TST positive. Smear category of the index case (group A vs group B) was not independently associated with transmission. We also found that the first two sputum specimens in cases where three or more were performed yielded 90% of all positive culture results for Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB).
Conclusions: We conclude that two sputum specimens negative for AFB stain are adequate for both assessing infectivity and for isolating MTB from patients with pulmonary TB.