Screening tests for active pulmonary tuberculosis in children

Bryan Vonasek, Tara Ness, Yemisi Takwoingi, Alexander W Kay, Susanna S van Wyk, Lara Ouellette, Ben J Marais, Karen R Steingart, Anna M Mandalakas

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Abstract

Background


Globally, children under 15 years represent approximately 12% of new tuberculosis cases, but 16% of the estimated 1.4 million deaths. This higher share of mortality highlights the urgent need to develop strategies to improve case detection in this age group and identify children without tuberculosis disease who should be considered for tuberculosis preventive treatment. One such strategy is systematic screening for tuberculosis in high‐risk groups.


Objectives


To estimate the sensitivity and specificity of the presence of one or more tuberculosis symptoms, or symptom combinations; chest radiography (CXR); Xpert MTB/RIF; Xpert Ultra; and combinations of these as screening tests for detecting active pulmonary childhood tuberculosis in the following groups.
– Tuberculosis contacts, including household contacts, school contacts, and other close contacts of a person with infectious tuberculosis.
– Children living with HIV.
– Children with pneumonia.
– Other risk groups (e.g. children with a history of previous tuberculosis, malnourished children).
– Children in the general population in high tuberculosis burden settings.


Search methods

We searched six databases, including the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, MEDLINE, and Embase, on 14 February 2020 without language restrictions and contacted researchers in the field.


Selection criteria

Cross‐sectional and cohort studies where at least 75% of children were aged under 15 years. Studies were eligible if conducted for screening rather than diagnosing tuberculosis. Reference standards were microbiological (MRS) and composite reference standard (CRS), which may incorporate symptoms and CXR.


Data collection and analysis

Two review authors independently extracted data and assessed study quality using QUADAS‐2. We consolidated symptom screens across included studies into groups that used similar combinations of symptoms as follows: one or more of cough, fever, or poor weight gain and one or more of cough, fever, or decreased playfulness. For combination of symptoms, a positive screen was the presence of one or more than one symptom.


We used a bivariate model to estimate pooled sensitivity and specificity with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) and performed analyses separately by reference standard. We assessed certainty of evidence using GRADE.


Main results


Nineteen studies assessed the following screens: one symptom (15 studies, 10,097 participants); combinations of symptoms (12 studies, 29,889 participants); CXR (10 studies, 7146 participants); and Xpert MTB/RIF (2 studies, 787 participants). Several studies assessed more than one screening test. No studies assessed Xpert Ultra. For 16 studies (84%), risk of bias for the reference standard domain was unclear owing to concern about incorporation bias. Across other quality domains, risk of bias was generally low.
Symptom screen (verified by CRS)


One or more of cough, fever, or poor weight gain in tuberculosis contacts (4 studies, tuberculosis prevalence 2% to 13%): pooled sensitivity was 89% (95% CI 52% to 98%; 113 participants; low‐certainty evidence) and pooled specificity was 69% (95% CI 51% to 83%; 2582 participants; low‐certainty evidence). Of 1000 children where 50 have pulmonary tuberculosis, 339 would be screen‐positive, of whom 294 (87%) would not have pulmonary tuberculosis (false positives); 661 would be screen‐negative, of whom five (1%) would have pulmonary tuberculosis (false negatives).


One or more of cough, fever, or decreased playfulness in children aged under five years, inpatient or outpatient (3 studies, tuberculosis prevalence 3% to 13%): sensitivity ranged from 64% to 76% (106 participants; moderate‐certainty evidence) and specificity from 37% to 77% (2339 participants; low‐certainty evidence). Of 1000 children where 50 have pulmonary tuberculosis, 251 to 636 would be screen‐positive, of whom 219 to 598 (87% to 94%) would not have pulmonary tuberculosis; 364 to 749 would be screen‐negative, of whom 12 to 18 (2% to 3%) would have pulmonary tuberculosis.


One or more of cough, fever, poor weight gain, or tuberculosis close contact (World Health Organization four‐symptom screen) in children living with HIV, outpatient (2 studies, tuberculosis prevalence 3% and 8%): pooled sensitivity was 61% (95% CI 58% to 64%; 1219 screens; moderate‐certainty evidence) and pooled specificity was 94% (95% CI 86% to 98%; 201,916 screens; low‐certainty evidence). Of 1000 symptom screens where 50 of the screens are on children with pulmonary tuberculosis, 88 would be screen‐positive, of which 57 (65%) would be on children who do not have pulmonary tuberculosis; 912 would be screen‐negative, of which 19 (2%) would be on children who have pulmonary tuberculosis.


CXR (verified by CRS)


CXR with any abnormality in tuberculosis contacts (8 studies, tuberculosis prevalence 2% to 25%): pooled sensitivity was 87% (95% CI 75% to 93%; 232 participants; low‐certainty evidence) and pooled specificity was 99% (95% CI 68% to 100%; 3281 participants; low‐certainty evidence). Of 1000 children, where 50 have pulmonary tuberculosis, 63 would be screen‐positive, of whom 19 (30%) would not have pulmonary tuberculosis; 937 would be screen‐negative, of whom 6 (1%) would have pulmonary tuberculosis.


Xpert MTB/RIF (verified by MRS)


Xpert MTB/RIF, inpatient or outpatient (2 studies, tuberculosis prevalence 1% and 4%): sensitivity was 43% and 100% (16 participants; very low‐certainty evidence) and specificity was 99% and 100% (771 participants; moderate‐certainty evidence). Of 1000 children, where 50 have pulmonary tuberculosis, 31 to 69 would be Xpert MTB/RIF‐positive, of whom 9 to 19 (28% to 29%) would not have pulmonary tuberculosis; 931 to 969 would be Xpert MTB/RIF‐negative, of whom 0 to 28 (0% to 3%) would have tuberculosis.
Studies often assessed more symptoms than those included in the index test and symptom definitions varied. These differences complicated data aggregation and may have influenced accuracy estimates. Both symptoms and CXR formed part of the CRS (incorporation bias), which may have led to overestimation of sensitivity and specificity.


Authors' conclusions


We found that in children who are tuberculosis contacts or living with HIV, screening tests using symptoms or CXR may be useful, but our review is limited by design issues with the index test and incorporation bias in the reference standard.


For Xpert MTB/RIF, we found insufficient evidence regarding screening accuracy.


Prospective evaluations of screening tests for tuberculosis in children will help clarify their use. In the meantime, screening strategies need to be pragmatic to address the persistent gaps in prevention and case detection that exist in resource‐limited settings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)CD013693
JournalThe Cochrane Library
Volume2021
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2021

Keywords

  • Adolescent
  • Bias
  • Child
  • Child Behavior
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Contact Tracing
  • Cough/diagnosis
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • False Negative Reactions
  • False Positive Reactions
  • Fever/diagnosis
  • HIV Infections/epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening/statistics & numerical data
  • Molecular Diagnostic Techniques
  • Radiography, Thoracic
  • Reference Standards
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Symptom Assessment/methods
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary/diagnosis
  • Weight Gain

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