When should I seriously consider active tuberculosis (TB) in my newly-admitted HIV-negative patient with a cough?

Active TB should be suspected based on a combination of epidemiological (eg, exposure, travel to, or residence in a high prevalence area, history of prior TB), clinical (eg, cough lasting 2-3 weeks or longer, fever, night sweats, weight loss, fatigue, less commonly, chest pain, dyspnea, and hemoptysis), chest radiograph abnormalities (eg, infiltrates, fibrosis, cavitation), and histopathologic (eg, caseating granuloma)1.

Among HIV-negative patients, the highest prevalence of TB is found those who have been incarcerated, use intravenous drugs, have alcohol use disorder, or are immunocompromised (including diabetes mellitus)2,3

Patients suspected of TB based on clinical criteria should undergo chest radiography.  Reactivation pulmonary TB (~90% of TB in adults) classically presents with upper lobe and/or the superior segment of the lower lobe disease.  Remember that up to 5% of patients with active pulmonary TB have normal chest radiograph, however4.  

All hospitalized patients suspected of having active TB should be placed on appropriate isolation precautions until TB is excluded.

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  1. Sia IG, Wieland ML. Current concepts in the management of tuberculosis. Mayo Clin Proc. 2011;86:348-361. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3068897/
  2. Center for Disease Control. Tuberculosis: Data and Statistics. https://www.cdc.gov/tb/statistics/default.htm. Accessed October 3, 2016.
  3. World Health Organization. Tuberculosis. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/ factsheets/fs104/en/. Accessed October 3, 2016.
  4. Marciniuk, D, McNab, BD, Martin WT, Hoeppner, VH. Detection of pulmonary tuberculosis in patients with a normal chest radiograph. Chest 1999;115:445-452. https://journal.chestnet.org/article/S0012-3692(15)50590-4/abstract



Contributed by Charles C. Jain MD, Medical Resident, Massachusetts General Hospital


When should I seriously consider active tuberculosis (TB) in my newly-admitted HIV-negative patient with a cough?

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