Background: Studies of Tuberculosis (TB) case contacts are increasingly being utilised for understanding the relationship between M. tuberculosis and the human host and for assessing new interventions and diagnostic tests. We aimed to identify the incidence rate of new TB cases among TB contacts and to relate this to their initial Mantoux and ELISPOT test results.
Methods and findings: After initial Mantoux and ELISPOT tests and exclusion of co-prevalent TB cases, we followed 2348 household contacts of sputum smear positive TB cases. We visited them at 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, 18 months and 24 months, and investigated those with symptoms consistent with TB. Those who were diagnosed separately at a government clinic had a chest x-ray. Twenty six contacts were diagnosed with definite TB over 4312 person years of follow-up (Incidence rate 603/100,000 person years; 95% Confidence Interval, 370-830). Nine index and secondary case pairs had cultured isolates available for genotyping. Of these, 6 pairs were concordant and 3 were discordant. 2.5% of non-progressors were HIV positive compared to 12% of progressors (HR 6.2; 95% CI 1.7-22.5; p = 0.010). 25 secondary cases had initial Mantoux results, 14 (56%) were positive ; 21 had initial ELISPOT results, 11 (52%) were positive; 15 (71%) of 21 tested were positive by one or the other test. Of the 6 contacts who had concordant isolates with their respective index case, 4 (67%) were Mantoux positive at recruitment, 3 (50%) were ELISPOT positive; 5 (83%) were positive by one or other of the two tests. ELISPOT positive contacts, and those with discordant results, had a similar rate of progression to those who were Mantoux positive. Those negative on either or both tests had the lowest rate of progression.
Conclusions: The incidence rate of TB disease in Gambian TB case contacts, after screening for co-prevalent cases, was 603/100,000 person years. Since initial ELISPOT test and Mantoux tests were each positive in only just over half of cases, but 71% were positive by one or other test, positivity by either might be the best indication for preventive treatment. These data do not support the replacement of the Mantoux test by an ELISPOT test in The Gambia or similar settings.