Objective: To investigate the combined effects of HIV infection and silicosis on mycobacterial disease.
Design and setting: A retrospective cohort of 1374 HIV-positive and 2648 HIV-negative miners who attended a South African gold mining hospital and primary health clinics.
Participants: Miners who had been tested for HIV, with consent, at primary health clinics during 1991-1996, predominantly because of a symptomatic sexually transmitted disease.
Results: Tuberculosis (TB) incidence was 4.9 and 1.1 per 100 person-years in HIV-positive and HIV-negative miners respectively. The incidence of Mycobacterium kansasii disease was also high (0.32 and 0.10 per 100 person-years, respectively). Silicosis was highly prevalent, implying inadequate dust control, and was a significant TB risk factor among both HIV-positive and HIV-negative men (adjusted incidence rate ratios 1.4-2.5 according to radiological severity). The data were consistent with the risks of silicosis and HIV combining multiplicatively, but did not fit an additive model. The incidence of HIV-associated TB increased significantly during the study, with no corresponding change in HIV-negative rates, to reach 16.1 per 100 person-years among HIV-positive silicotics.
Conclusions: The risks of silicosis and HIV infection combine multiplicatively, so that TB remains as much a silica-related occupational disease in HIV-positive as in HIV-negative miners, and HIV-positive silicotics have considerably higher TB incidence rates than those reported from other HIV-positive Africans. The increasing impact of HIV over time may indicate epidemic TB transmission with rapid disease development in HIV-infected miners. Similar but currently unrecognized interactions may be contributing to TB control problems in other industrializing countries affected by the HIV epidemic.