Background: Tuberculosis typically develops from a reactivation of latent infection. Clinical tuberculosis may also arise from a primary infection, and this is thought to be more likely in persons infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). However, the relative importance of these two pathogenetic mechanisms in this population is unclear.
Methods: Between December 1990 and April 1991, tuberculosis was diagnosed in 12 residents of a housing facility for HIV-infected persons. In the preceding six months, two patients being treated for tuberculosis had been admitted to the facility. We investigated this outbreak using standard procedures plus analysis of the cultured organisms with restriction-fragment-length polymorphisms (RFLPs).
Results: Organisms isolated from all 11 of the culture-positive residents had similar RFLP patterns, whereas the isolates from the 2 patients treated for tuberculosis in the previous six months were different strains. This implicated the first of the 12 patients with tuberculosis as the source of this outbreak. Among the 30 residents exposed to possible infection, active tuberculosis developed in 11 (37 percent), and 4 others (13 percent) had newly positive tuberculin skin tests. Of 28 staff members with possible exposure, at least 6 had positive tuberculin-test reactions, but none had tuberculosis.
Conclusions: Newly acquired tuberculous infection in HIV-infected patients can spread readily and progress rapidly to active disease. There should be heightened surveillance for tuberculosis in facilities where HIV-infected persons live, and investigation of contacts must be undertaken promptly and be focused more broadly than is usual.