BACKGROUND: Empirical treatment of tuberculosis (TB) may be necessary in patients with negative or no Xpert MTB/RIF results. In a context with access to Xpert, we assessed mortality in the 6 months after the initial TB consultation among HIV-positive and HIV-negative patients who received empirical TB treatment or TB treatment based on bacteriological confirmation and we compared it with the mortality among those who did not receive TB treatment.
METHODS: This prospective cohort study included consecutively adult patients with signs and symptoms of TB attending an outpatient TB clinic in Western Kenya. At the first consultation, patients received a clinical exam and chest X-ray. Sputum was collected for microscopy, Xpert and Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex (MTB) culture. Patients not started on TB treatment were reassessed after 5 days. All patients bacteriologically confirmed (positive Xpert or culture) received TB treatment. Empirical treatment was defined as a decision to start TB treatment without bacteriological confirmation. Patients were reassessed after 6 months.
RESULTS: Of 606 patients included, 344/606 (56.8%) were women. Median age was 35 years [Interquartile Range (IQR):27-47] and 398/594 (67.0%) were HIV-positive. In total, 196/606 (32.3%) patients were Xpert- or culture-positive and 331/606 (54.6%) started TB treatment. Overall, 100/398 (25.1%) HIV-positive and 31/196 (15.8%) HIV-negative patients received empirical treatment. Mortality in the 6 months following the first consultation was 1.6 and 0.8/100 patient-months among HIV-positive and HIV-negative patients respectively. In the multivariate analyses, TB treatment - whether empirical or based on bacteriological confirmation- was not associated with increased mortality among HIV-positive patients (aHR:2.51, 95%CI:0.79-7.90 and aHR:1.25, 95%CI:0.37-4.21 respectively). However, HIV-negative patients who received empirical treatment had a higher risk of mortality (aHR:4.85, 95%CI:1.08-21.67) compared to those not started on treatment. HIV-negative patients treated for TB based on bacteriological confirmation did not have a different risk of mortality (aHR:0.77, 95%CI:0.08-7.41).
CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest that in a context with access to Xpert, clinicians should continue using empirical TB treatment in HIV-positive patients with signs and symptoms of TB and negative Xpert results. However, differential diagnoses other than TB should be actively sought before initiating empirical TB treatment, particularly in HIV-negative patients.