Rationale: Chest radiography is sometimes the only method available for investigating patients with possible pulmonary tuberculosis (PTB) with negative sputum smears. However, interpretation of chest radiographs in this context lacks specificity for PTB, is subjective and is neither standardized nor reproducible. Efforts to improve the interpretation of chest radiography are warranted.
Objectives: To develop a scoring system to aid the diagnosis of PTB, using features recorded with the Chest Radiograph Reading and Recording System (CRRS).
Methods: Chest radiographs of outpatients with possible PTB, recruited over 3 years at clinics in South Africa were read by two independent readers using the CRRS method. Multivariate analysis was used to identify features significantly associated with culture-positive PTB. These were weighted and used to generate a score.
Results: 473 patients were included in the analysis. Large upper lobe opacities, cavities, unilateral pleural effusion and adenopathy were significantly associated with PTB, had high inter-reader reliability, and received 2, 2, 1 and 2 points, respectively in the final score. Using a cut-off of 2, scores below this threshold had a high negative predictive value (91.5%, 95%CI 87.1,94.7), but low positive predictive value (49.4%, 95%CI 42.9,55.9). Among the 382 TB suspects with negative sputum smears, 229 patients had scores <2; the score correctly ruled out active PTB in 214 of these patients (NPV 93.4%; 95%CI 89.4,96.3). The score had a suboptimal negative predictive value in HIV-infected patients (NPV 86.4, 95% CI 75,94).
Conclusions: The proposed scoring system is simple, and reliably ruled out active PTB in smear-negative HIV-uninfected patients, thus potentially reducing the need for further tests in high burden settings. Validation studies are now required.