Generalized tuberculosis in the acquired immune deficiency syndrome

Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2000 Sep;124(9):1267-74. doi: 10.5858/2000-124-1267-GTITAI.


Objective: Generalized, or hematogenously disseminated, tuberculosis (TB) in patients with the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) has been associated with a high incidence of cases remaining undiagnosed until postmortem. To better characterize generalized TB in the setting of AIDS, this report describes the clinical, laboratory, radiologic, and pathologic features of 20 fatal cases.

Design: The medical records, autopsy protocols, and histologic material from patients with AIDS and concomitant TB were reviewed. All patients were autopsied at a tertiary care medical center during the years 1985-1997.

Results: In 50% of our 20 cases, diagnosis was not made until postmortem. Signs and symptoms were few, including the absence of fever (temperature > or = 38 degrees C) in 55% of patients. Consistent laboratory abnormalities of a nonspecific nature were limited to hyponatremia (sodium <135 mmol/L) in 60%. Both peripheral and deep (thoracic and abdominal) lymphadenopathy, unusual in adults with TB, occurred in 45% and 95% of cases, respectively. In contrast to previous reports, all of the 6 cases of tuberculous meningitis presented as acute meningitis with a predominance of neutrophils in cerebrospinal fluid. Necrotizing encephalitis with extension of the acute inflammation into the superficial cortex was seen in all cases and tuberculous brain abscesses occurred in 50% of cases, a higher frequency than previously reported. Despite lung involvement in 90% of the cases, 33% of chest radiographs were interpreted as normal and disseminated mycobacterial disease was not suggested in the radiograph report in any of the other cases. Soft tissue abscesses in uncharacteristic locations such as the neck, mediastinum, and perirectal area occurred in these patients. Histologically, 95% of organs sampled showed inflammatory foci characterized by extensive necrosis with numerous neutrophils and/or karyorrhectic debris, numerous acid-fast bacilli, few or no epithelioid histiocytes, and no Langhans giant cells.

Conclusion: Clinically and pathologically, generalized TB in the setting of AIDS is characterized by either unusual features or a lack of the typical features described for generalized TB in patients who do not have AIDS. This absence of classic features contributes to the high incidence of cases that remain undiagnosed until postmortem examination.

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / complications*
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / pathology*
  • Adult
  • CD4 Lymphocyte Count
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymph Nodes / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Tuberculosis / complications*
  • Tuberculosis / pathology*
  • Tuberculosis, Central Nervous System / pathology
  • Tuberculosis, Gastrointestinal / pathology
  • Tuberculosis, Hepatic / pathology
  • Tuberculosis, Lymph Node / pathology
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / pathology
  • Tuberculosis, Splenic / pathology