Background: The accurate diagnosis of TB in HIV-infected patients, particularly with advanced immunosuppression, is difficult. Recent studies indicate that a lipoarabinomannan (LAM) assay (Clearview-TB(R)-ELISA) may have some utility for the diagnosis of TB in HIV-infected patients; however, the precise subgroup that may benefit from this technology requires clarification. The utility of LAM in sputum samples has, hitherto, not been evaluated.
Methods: LAM was measured in sputum and urine samples obtained from 500 consecutively recruited ambulant patients, with suspected TB, from 2 primary care clinics in South Africa. Culture positivity for M. tuberculosis was used as the reference standard for TB diagnosis.
Results: Of 440 evaluable patients 120/387 (31%) were HIV-infected. Urine-LAM positivity was associated with HIV positivity (p = 0.007) and test sensitivity, although low, was significantly higher in HIV-infected compared to uninfected patients (21% versus 6%; p<0.001), and also in HIV-infected participants with a CD4 <200 versus >200 cells/mm(3) (37% versus 0%; p = 0.003). Urine-LAM remained highly specific in all 3 subgroups (95%-100%). 25% of smear-negative but culture-positive HIV-infected patients with a CD4 <200 cells/mm(3) were positive for urine-LAM. Sputum-LAM had good sensitivity (86%) but poor specificity (15%) likely due to test cross-reactivity with several mouth-residing organisms including actinomycetes and nocardia species.
Conclusions: These preliminary data indicate that in a high burden primary care setting the diagnostic usefulness of urine-LAM is limited, as a rule-in test, to a specific patient subgroup i.e. smear-negative HIV-infected TB patients with a CD4 count <200 cells/mm(3), who would otherwise have required further investigation. However, even in this group sensitivity was modest. Future and adequately powered studies in a primary care setting should now specifically target patients with suspected TB who have advanced HIV infection.