Symptom- and chest-radiography screening for active pulmonary tuberculosis in HIV-negative adults and adults with unknown HIV status

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Background: Systematic screening in high-burden settings is recommended as a strategy for early detection of pulmonary tuberculosis disease, reducing mortality, morbidity and transmission, and improving equity in access to care. Questioning for symptoms and chest radiography (CXR) have historically been the most widely available tools to screen for tuberculosis disease. Their accuracy is important for the design of tuberculosis screening programmes and determines, in combination with the accuracy of confirmatory diagnostic tests, the yield of a screening programme and the burden on individuals and the health service. Objectives: To assess the sensitivity and specificity of questioning for the presence of one or more tuberculosis symptoms or symptom combinations, CXR, and combinations of these as screening tools for detecting bacteriologically confirmed pulmonary tuberculosis disease in HIV-negative adults and adults with unknown HIV status who are considered eligible for systematic screening for tuberculosis disease. Second, to investigate sources of heterogeneity, especially in relation to regional, epidemiological, and demographic characteristics of the study populations. Search methods: We searched the MEDLINE, Embase, LILACS, and HTA (Health Technology Assessment) databases using pre-specified search terms and consulted experts for unpublished reports, for the period 1992 to 2018. The search date was 10 December 2018. This search was repeated on 2 July 2021. Selection criteria: Studies were eligible if participants were screened for tuberculosis disease using symptom questions, or abnormalities on CXR, or both, and were offered confirmatory testing with a reference standard. We included studies if diagnostic two-by-two tables could be generated for one or more index tests, even if not all participants were subjected to a microbacteriological reference standard. We excluded studies evaluating self-reporting of symptoms. Data collection and analysis: We categorized symptom and CXR index tests according to commonly used definitions. We assessed the methodological quality of included studies using the QUADAS-2 instrument. We examined the forest plots and receiver operating characteristic plots visually for heterogeneity. We estimated summary sensitivities and specificities (and 95% confidence intervals (CI)) for each index test using bivariate random-effects methods. We analyzed potential sources of heterogeneity in a hierarchical mixed-model. Main results: The electronic database search identified 9473 titles and abstracts. Through expert consultation, we identified 31 reports on national tuberculosis prevalence surveys as eligible (of which eight were already captured in the search of the electronic databases), and we identified 957 potentially relevant articles through reference checking. After removal of duplicates, we assessed 10,415 titles and abstracts, of which we identified 430 (4%) for full text review, whereafter we excluded 364 articles. In total, 66 articles provided data on 59 studies. We assessed the 2 July 2021 search results; seven studies were potentially eligible but would make no material difference to the review findings or grading of the evidence, and were not added in this edition of the review. We judged most studies at high risk of bias in one or more domains, most commonly because of incorporation bias and verification bias. We judged applicability concerns low in more than 80% of studies in all three domains. The three most common symptom index tests, cough for two or more weeks (41 studies), any cough (21 studies), and any tuberculosis symptom (29 studies), showed a summary sensitivity of 42.1% (95% CI 36.6% to 47.7%), 51.3% (95% CI 42.8% to 59.7%), and 70.6% (95% CI 61.7% to 78.2%, all very low-certainty evidence), and a specificity of 94.4% (95% CI 92.6% to 95.8%, high-certainty evidence), 87.6% (95% CI 81.6% to 91.8%, low-certainty evidence), and 65.1% (95% CI 53.3% to 75.4%, low-certainty evidence), respectively. The data on symptom index tests were more heterogenous than those for CXR. The studies on any tuberculosis symptom were the most heterogeneous, but had the lowest number of variables explaining this variation. Symptom index tests also showed regional variation. The summary sensitivity of any CXR abnormality (23 studies) was 94.7% (95% CI 92.2% to 96.4%, very low-certainty evidence) and 84.8% (95% CI 76.7% to 90.4%, low-certainty evidence) for CXR abnormalities suggestive of tuberculosis (19 studies), and specificity was 89.1% (95% CI 85.6% to 91.8%, low-certainty evidence) and 95.6% (95% CI 92.6% to 97.4%, high-certainty evidence), respectively. Sensitivity was more heterogenous than specificity, and could be explained by regional variation. The addition of cough for two or more weeks, whether to any (pulmonary) CXR abnormality or to CXR abnormalities suggestive of tuberculosis, resulted in a summary sensitivity and specificity of 99.2% (95% CI 96.8% to 99.8%) and 84.9% (95% CI 81.2% to 88.1%) (15 studies; certainty of evidence not assessed). Authors' conclusions: The summary estimates of the symptom and CXR index tests may inform the choice of screening and diagnostic algorithms in any given setting or country where screening for tuberculosis is being implemented. The high sensitivity of CXR index tests, with or without symptom questions in parallel, suggests a high yield of persons with tuberculosis disease. However, additional considerations will determine the design of screening and diagnostic algorithms, such as the availability and accessibility of CXR facilities or the resources to fund them, and the need for more or fewer diagnostic tests to confirm the diagnosis (depending on screening test specificity), which also has resource implications. These review findings should be interpreted with caution due to methodological limitations in the included studies and regional variation in sensitivity and specificity. The sensitivity and specificity of an index test in a specific setting cannot be predicted with great precision due to heterogeneity. This should be borne in mind when planning for and implementing tuberculosis screening programmes.




van’t Hoog, A., Viney, K., Biermann, O., Yang, B., Leeflang, M. M. G., & Langendam, M. W. (2022, March 23). Symptom- and chest-radiography screening for active pulmonary tuberculosis in HIV-negative adults and adults with unknown HIV status. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. John Wiley and Sons Ltd.

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