Background: There has been a resurgence of tuberculosis worldwide, mainly in developing countries but also affecting the United Kingdom (UK), and other Western countries. The control of tuberculosis is dependent on early identification of cases and timely notification to public health departments to ensure appropriate treatment of cases and screening of contacts. Tuberculosis is compulsorily notifiable in the UK, and the doctor making or suspecting the diagnosis is legally responsible for notification. There is evidence of under-reporting of tuberculosis. This has implications for the control of tuberculosis as a disproportionate number of people who become infected are the most vulnerable in society, and are less likely to be identified and notified to the public health system. These include the poor, the homeless, refugees and ethnic minorities.
Method: This study was a critical literature review on completeness of tuberculosis notification within the UK National Health Service (NHS) context. The review also identified data sources associated with reporting completeness and assessed whether studies corrected for undercount using capture-recapture (CR) methodology. Studies were included if they assessed completeness of tuberculosis notification quantitatively. The outcome measure used was notification completeness expressed between 0% and 100% of a defined denominator, or in numbers not notified where the denominator was unknown.
Results: Seven studies that met the inclusion and exclusion criteria were identified through electronic and manual search of published and unpublished literature. One study used CR methodology. Analysis of the seven studies showed that undernotification varied from 7% to 27% in studies that had a denominator; and 38%-49% extra cases were identified in studies which examined specific data sources like pathology reports or prescriptions for anti-tuberculosis drugs. Cases notified were more likely to have positive microbiology than cases not notified which were more likely to have positive histopathology or be surgical in-patients. Collation of prescription data of two or more anti-tuberculosis drugs increases case ascertainment of tuberculosis.
Conclusion: The reporting of tuberculosis is incomplete in the UK, although notification is a statutory requirement. Undernotification leads to an underestimation of the disease burden and hinders implementation of appropriate prevention and control strategies. The notification system needs to be strengthened to include education and training of all sub-specialities involved in diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis.