Background and purpose: Tuberculosis (TB) in prison is a serious public health problem that is fueled by overcrowding, poor nutrition and unsatisfactory medical services. To evaluate the magnitude of the TB epidemic in Taiwanese prisons, we analyzed the results of a screening program for TB among inmates.
Methods: A mass radiography screening was performed in 24 prisons and five jails from July 1998 through June 1999. The National TB Register was notified and treatment with a rifampin-based short-course anti-TB regimen was given for all cases identified in the screening. The outcome of treatment of TB inmates was determined from records of the National TB Register.
Results: A total of 51,496 inmates were screened. Pulmonary TB was diagnosed in 107 (258.7 per 100,000 population) inmates. Among them, 88 (82.2%) were newly diagnosed TB patients, 12 (11.2%) had a history of anti-TB treatment and were re-treated after screening, and seven (6.6%) had previously diagnosed TB and were receiving treatment at the time of screening. Of the 107 inmates with TB, 86 (80.4%) completed treatment, 17 (15.9%) were lost to follow-up due to release from prison, and four (3.7%) died (three of TB). During a mean of 26.2 +/- 4.4 months (range, 19.7-39.0 mo) post-registration follow-up, three patients who had completed treatment relapsed.
Conclusions: The high prevalence of TB in prisons indicates that prison administrators and the national TB program in Taiwan need to strengthen their activity to control this disease. The establishment of a surveillance section of the national TB program to systematically collect data on TB in prisons may facilitate efforts to monitor and control TB both in prisons and the general population. Our findings also indicate that TB control in prisons should give top priority to improving mycobacteriology laboratory services to ensure the quality of sputum examinations.