Clinical deterioration during antitubercular treatment at a district hospital in South Africa: the importance of drug resistance and AIDS defining illnesses

BACKGROUND: Clinical deterioration on drug therapy for tuberculosis is a common cause of hospital admission in Africa. Potential causes for clinical deterioration in settings of high HIV-1 prevalence include drug resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M.tb) , co-morbid illnesses, poor adherence to therapy, tuberculosis associated-immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome (TB-IRIS) and subtherapeutic antitubercular drug levels. It is important to derive a rapid diagnostic work-up to determine the cause of clinical deterioration as well as specific management to prevent further clinical deterioration and death. We undertook this study among tuberculosis (TB) patients referred to an adult district level hospital situated in a high HIV-1 prevalence setting to determine the frequency, reasons and outcome for such clinical deterioration. Method A prospective observational study conducted during the first quarter of 2007. We defined clinical deterioration as clinical worsening or failure to stabilise after 14 or more days of antitubercular treatment, resulting in hospital referral. We collected data on tuberculosis diagnosis and treatment, HIV-1 status and antiretroviral treatment, and investigated reasons for clinical deterioration as well as outcome. RESULTS: During this period, 352 TB patients met inclusion criteria; 296 were admitted to hospital accounting for 17% of total medical admissions (n = 1755). Eighty three percent of TB patients (291/352) were known to be HIV-1 co-infected with a median CD4 count of 89cells/mm 3 (IQR 38-157). Mortality among TB patients admitted to hospital was 16% (n = 48). The median duration of hospital admission was 9.5 days (IQR 4-18), longer than routine in this setting (4 days). Among patients in whom HIV-1 status was known (n = 324), 72% of TB patients (n = 232) had an additional illness to tuberculosis; new AIDS defining illnesses (n = 80) were the most frequent additional illnesses (n = 208) in HIV-1 co-infected patients (n = 291). Rifampin-resistant M.tb (n = 41), TB-IRIS (n = 51) and drug resistant bacterial infections (n = 12) were found in 12%, 14% and 3.4% of the 352 cases, respectively. Interpretation In our setting, new AIDS defining illnesses, drug resistant M.tb and other drug resistant bacteria are important reasons for clinical deterioration in HIV-1 co-infected patients receiving antitubercular treatment. HIV-1 co-infected patients may be at increased risk of acquiring nosocomial drug resistant pathogens because profound immune suppression results in co-morbid illnesses that require prolonged inpatient admissions. Routine infection control is essential and needs to be strengthened in our setting.