Respiratory tuberculosis in childhood: the diagnostic value of clinical features and special investigations


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Abstract

During a 16-month period children presenting to a pediatric outpatient facility from an area with a high tuberculosis incidence (> 400/100 000) and suspected of having respiratory tuberculosis (TB) were evaluated for close contact with adult pulmonary tuberculosis, weight loss, symptom duration, respiratory signs, lymphadenopathy and hepatosplenomegaly and by chest radiography and tuberculin testing (Mantoux or tine). Probable tuberculosis was diagnosed in 258 children and was confirmed in 109 (42%) patients with a mean age of 31 months by culture of Mycobacterium tuberculosis from gastric aspirate or another source. Eleven children with confirmed TB had a normal chest radiograph. After review of special investigations, clinical course and follow-up of the remaining 149 children, 86 children (58%) with a mean age of 32.4 months were considered to have probable TB and 63 (42%) with a mean age of 27 months not to have TB. Significantly fewer children in the “not TB” group than in the confirmed and probable TB groups had a close adult pulmonary tuberculosis contact (13 (21%) and 95 (49%), respectively; P < 0.01). There was no difference between the “not TB” group and the confirmed and probable TB groups in the proportion presenting with weight loss, cough or other respiratory symptoms, a symptom duration >2 weeks, the presence of bronchial breathing, wheeze, hepatomegaly or splenomegaly or peripheral lymphadenopathy. Final diagnoses in the “not TB” group included bacterial or viral pneumonia or bron-chopneumonia in 37, asthma often accompanied by segmental collapse in 9 and cavitating pneumonia in 3 children. On the one hand children in whom there were sufficient criteria to be considered probable cases of TB were subsequently thought not to have TB; on the other hand 11 (10%) of children with TB confirmed by culture of Mycobacterium tuberculosis from gastric aspirate had a normal chest radiograph.

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