Background: The World Health Organization advises active tracing of children younger than 5 years old in household contact with a sputum smear-positive tuberculosis index case. This study compared radiographic disease manifestations in 2 groups of children treated for tuberculosis in an endemic setting: those who presented with suspicious symptoms; and those actively traced as household contacts of an adult index case.
Methods: We conducted a prospective descriptive study from February 2003 through October 2004 at 5 primary health care clinics in Cape Town South Africa, including all children (younger than 5 years old) treated for tuberculosis (TB).
Results: A total of 326 children (younger than 5 years old) received antituberculosis treatment; 190 (58.3%) presented with suspicious symptoms, and 136 (41.7%) were actively traced contacts. Children were categorized as; "not TB" 71 (22%), intrathoracic tuberculosis 230 (70%) and extrathoracic tuberculosis 25 (8%). Significantly more actively traced contacts were categorized as "not TB" (odds ratio, 7.4; 95% confidence interval, 3.8-14.3), or demonstrated elements of the primary complex only on the chest radiograph (odds ratio, 26.2; 95% confidence interval, 8.6-89.2), compared with children who presented with suspicious symptoms. Of all children diagnosed with intrathoracic tuberculosis, 20 of 230 (9%) reported no symptoms, all of whom demonstrated elements of the primary complex only.
Conclusions: The majority of actively traced contacts had minimal disease. Symptom-based screening would have identified all but 9% of children diagnosed with intrathoracic tuberculosis, all of whom demonstrated elements of the primary complex only. Further investigation is required to establish whether symptom-based screening can be justified to improve access to preventive chemotherapy in resource-limited endemic settings.