Objective: Because treatment with tumor necrosis factor (TNF) antagonists may increase the risk of tuberculosis (TB), and because knowledge of the risk of TB in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) not treated with biologics is scarce and of uncertain generalizability to low-risk populations, this study sought to determine the risk of TB among Swedish patients with RA.
Methods: Using data from Swedish nationwide and population-based registers and data from an ongoing monitoring program of TNF antagonists, the relative risks of TB in patients with RA (versus the general population) and of TB associated with TNF antagonists (versus RA patients not treated with biologics) were determined by comparing the incidence of hospitalization for TB in 3 RA cohorts and 2 general population cohorts from 1999 to 2001. We also reviewed the characteristics of all reported cases of TB in RA patients treated with TNF antagonists in Sweden and calculated the incidence of TB per type of TNF antagonist between 1999 and 2004.
Results: During 1999-2001, RA patients who were not treated with TNF antagonists were at increased risk of TB versus the general population (relative risk 2.0, 95% confidence interval [95% CI] 1.2-3.4). RA patients treated with TNF antagonists had a 4-fold increased risk of TB (relative risk 4.0, 95% CI 1.3-12) versus RA patients not treated with TNF antagonists. The reported TB cases during 1999-2004 in RA patients exposed to TNF antagonists (9 infliximab, 4 etanercept, 2 both) were predominantly pulmonary. TB occurred up to 3 years following the start of treatment.
Conclusion: Irrespective of whether TNF antagonists are administered, Swedish patients with RA are at increased risk of TB. During 1999-2001, TNF antagonists were associated with an increased risk of TB, up to 4-fold in magnitude. This increased risk may persist over time during treatment and is related to both infliximab and etanercept.