Recurrent tuberculosis (TB) after successful TB treatment occurs due to endogenous reactivation (relapse) or exogenous reinfection. We revisited the conclusions of relapse in a high TB incidence setting that were drawn on the basis of IS6110 restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis in a large retrospective cohort study in suburban Cape Town, South Africa. Using whole genome sequencing (WGS), we undertook pair-wise genome comparison of Mycobacterium tuberculosis strains cultured from diagnostic sputum samples collected at the index and recurrent TB episode for 25 recurrent TB cases who had been classified as relapse based on identical DNA fingerprint patterns in the earlier study. We found that paired strain genome sequences were identical or showed minimal variant differences in 22 of 25 recurrent TB cases, consistent with relapse. One showed 20 variant differences, suggestive of exogenous reinfection. Two of the 25 had mixed infections, each with the index episode strain detected as the dominant strain at recurrence in one of these patients, the minority strain harboured drug-resistance conferring mutations (rpoB, katG). In conclusion, our study highlights the additional value of WGS for investigating recurrent TB in settings with high infection pressure and closely related circulating strains, where the extent of re- and mixed infection may be underestimated.
Keywords: Mycobacterium tuberculosis; Recurrent tuberculosis; Tuberculosis; Whole genome sequencing.
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