Background: Tuberculosis is known to have socio-economic determinants at individual and at area levels, but it is not known whether they are independent, whether they interact and their relative contributions to the burden of tuberculosis.
Methods: A case-control study was conducted in Recife, Brazil, to investigate individual and area social determinants of tuberculosis, to explore the relationship between determinants at the two levels and to calculate their relative contribution to the burden of tuberculosis. It included 1452 cases of tuberculosis diagnosed by the tuberculosis services and 5808 controls selected at random from questionnaires completed for the demographic census. Exhaustive information on social factors was collected from cases, using the questionnaire used in the census. Socio-economic information for areas was downloaded from the census. Multilevel logistic regression investigated individual and area effects.
Results: There was a marked and independent influence of social variables on the risk of tuberculosis, both at individual and area levels. At individual level, being aged >or=20, being male, being illiterate, not working in the previous 7 days and possessing few goods, all increased the risk of tuberculosis. At area level, living in an area with many illiterate people and where few households own a computer also increased this risk; individual and area levels did not appear to interact. Twice as many cases were attributable to social variables at individual level than at area level.
Conclusions: Although individual characteristics are the main contributor to the risk of tuberculosis, contextual characteristics make a substantial independent contribution.