Predictors of unfavorable responses to therapy in rifampicin-sensitive pulmonary tuberculosis using an integrated approach of radiological presentation and sputum mycobacterial burden

PLoS One. 2021 Sep 20;16(9):e0257647. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0257647. eCollection 2021.


Introduction: Despite the exalted status of sputum mycobacterial load for gauging pulmonary tuberculosis treatment and progress, Chest X-rays supplement valuable information for taking instantaneous therapeutic decisions, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though literature on individual parameters is overwhelming, few studies have explored the interaction between radiographic parameters denoting severity with mycobacterial burden signifying infectivity. By using a sophisticated approach of integrating Chest X-ray parameters with sputum mycobacterial characteristics, evaluated at all the three crucial time points of TB treatment namely pre-treatment, end of intensive phase and completion of treatment, utilizing the interactive Cox Proportional Hazards model, we aimed to precisely deduce predictors of unfavorable response to TB treatment.

Materials and method: We extracted de-identified data from well characterized clinical trial cohorts that recruited rifampicin-sensitive Pulmonary TB patients without any comorbidities, taking their first spell of anti-tuberculosis therapy under supervision and meticulous follow up for 24 months post treatment completion, to accurately predict TB outcomes. Radiographic data independently obtained, interpreted by two experienced pulmonologists was collated with demographic details and, sputum smear and culture grades of participants by an independent statistician and analyzed using the Cox Proportional Hazards model, to not only adjust for confounding factors including treatment effect, but also explore the interaction between radiological and bacteriological parameters for better therapeutic application.

Results: Of 667 TB patients with data available, cavitation, extent of involvement, lower zone involvement, smear and culture grade at baseline were significant parameters predisposing to an unfavorable TB treatment outcome in the univariate analysis. Reduction in radiological lesions in Chest X-ray by at least 50% at 2 months and 75% at the end of treatment helped in averting unfavorable responses. Smear and Culture conversion at the end of 2 months was highly significant as a predictor (p<0.001). In the multivariate analysis, the adjusted hazards ratios (HR) for an unfavorable response to TB therapy for extent of involvement, baseline cavitation and persistence (post treatment) were 1.21 (95% CI: 1.01-1.44), 1.73 (95% CI: 1.05-2.84) and 2.68 (95% CI: 1.4-5.12) respectively. A 3+ smear had an HR of 1.94 (95% CI: 0.81-4.64). Further probing into the interaction, among patients with 3+ and 2+ smears, HRs for cavitation were 3.26 (95% CI: 1.33-8.00) and 1.92 (95% CI: 0.80-4.60) while for >2 zones, were 3.05 (95% CI: 1.12-8.23) and 1.92 (95% CI: 0.72-5.08) respectively. Patients without cavitation, zonal involvement <2, and a smear grade less than 2+ had a better prognosis and constituted minimal disease.

Conclusion: Baseline Cavitation, Opacities occupying >2 zones and 3+ smear grade individually and independently forecasted a poorer TB outcome. The interaction model revealed that Zonal involvement confined to 2 zones, without a cavity and smear grade up to 2+, constituting "minimal disease", had a better prognosis. Radiological clearance >50% along with smear conversion at the end of intensive phase of treatment, observed to be a reasonable alternative to culture conversion in predicting a successful outcome. These parameters may potentially take up key positions as stratification factors for future trials contemplating on shorter TB regimens.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / physiology*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Rifampin / pharmacology
  • Rifampin / therapeutic use*
  • Sputum / microbiology*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / diagnostic imaging*
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / drug therapy*
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / microbiology
  • Young Adult


  • Rifampin