Screening People with Tuberculosis for High Risk of Severe Illness at Notification: Programmatic Experience from Karnataka, India

Trop Med Infect Dis. 2021 Jun 15;6(2):102. doi: 10.3390/tropicalmed6020102.


Due to limited availability of diagnostics and capacity, people with tuberculosis do not always undergo systematic assessment for severe illness (requiring inpatient care). In Karnataka (south India), para-medical programme staff used a screening tool to identify people at 'high risk of severe illness', defined using indicators of very severe undernutrition, abnormal vital signs and poor performance status (any one): (i) body mass index (BMI) ≤ 14.0 kg/m2 (ii) BMI ≤ 16.0 kg/m2 with bilateral leg swelling (iii) respiratory rate > 24/min (iv) oxygen saturation < 94% (v) inability to stand without support. Of 3020 adults notified from public facilities (15 October to 30 November 2020) in 16 districts, 1531 (51%) were screened (district-wise range: 13-90%) and of them, 538 (35%) were classified as 'high risk of severe illness'. Short median delays in screening from notification (five days), and all five indicators being collected for 88% of patients, suggests the feasibility of using this tool in programme settings. However, districts with poor screening coverage require further attention. To end tuberculosis deaths, screening should be followed by referral to higher facilities for comprehensive clinical evaluation, to assess the need for inpatient care. Future studies should assess the validity (especially sensitivity in picking severely ill patients) of this screening tool.

Keywords: TB mortality; coverage; domiciliary care; feasibility; hospitalization; mobile application; operational research; people with TB who are severely ill; programme settings.