The predictive value of current haemoglobin levels for incident tuberculosis and/or mortality during long-term antiretroviral therapy in South Africa: a cohort study

BACKGROUND: Low haemoglobin concentrations may be predictive of incident tuberculosis (TB) and death in HIV-infected patients receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART), but data are limited and inconsistent. We examined these relationships retrospectively in a long-term South African ART cohort with multiple time-updated haemoglobin measurements. METHODS: Prospectively collected clinical data on patients receiving ART for up to 8years in a community-based cohort were analysed. Time-updated haemoglobin concentrations, CD4 counts and HIV viral loads were recorded, and TB diagnoses and deaths from all causes were ascertained. Anaemia severity was classified using World Health Organization criteria. TB incidence and mortality rates were calculated and Poisson regression models were used to identify independent predictors of incident TB and mortality, respectively. RESULTS: During a median follow-up of 5.0years (IQR, 2.5-5.8) of 1,521 patients, 476 cases of incident TB and 192 deaths occurred during 6,459 person-years (PYs) of follow-up. TB incidence rates were strongly associated with time-updated anaemia severity; those without anaemia had a rate of 4.4 (95%CI, 3.8-5.1) cases/100 PYs compared to 10.0 (95%CI, 8.3-12.1), 26.6 (95%CI, 22.5-31.7) and 87.8 (95%CI, 57.0-138.2) cases/100 PYs in those with mild, moderate and severe anaemia, respectively. Similarly, mortality rates in those with no anaemia or mild, moderate and severe time-updated anaemia were 1.1 (95%CI, 0.8-1.5), 3.5 (95%CI, 2.7-4.8), 11.8 (95%CI, 9.5-14.8) and 28.2 (95%CI, 16.5-51.5) cases/100 PYs, respectively. Moderate and severe anaemia (time-updated) during ART were the strongest independent predictors for incident TB (adjusted IRR=3.8 [95%CI, 3.0-4.8] and 8.2 [95%CI, 5.3-12.7], respectively) and for mortality (adjusted IRR=6.0 [95%CI, 3.9-9.2] and adjusted IRR=8.0 [95%CI, 3.9-16.4], respectively). CONCLUSIONS: Increasing severity of anaemia was associated with exceptionally high rates of both incident TB and mortality during long-term ART. Patients receiving ART who have moderate or severe anaemia should be prioritized for TB screening using microbiological assays and may require adjunctive clinical interventions.