Setting: All patients with tuberculosis as a primary or underlying cause of death who were autopsied at the Institute for Lung Diseases and Tuberculosis, Sremska Kamenica, in the former Yugoslavia, between 1981 and 1990 were investigated.
Objective: To study why people die of active tuberculosis in the era of effective chemotherapy and to identify factors contributing to death.
Design: In a retrospective investigation, this index group was compared with a control group consisting of patients who suffered from tuberculosis over the same period but who improved and were discharged from hospital.
Results: A significant difference in age (P < 0.05) was found between those patients who died with an antemortem-established diagnosis and those who died with unrecognised tuberculosis (median 49 and 60 years respectively). When it came to the index group, 28 patients (56%) had one or more risk factors and the frequency of alcohol abuse was significantly higher (P < 0.001). Antituberculosis treatment had been introduced in 27 cases (54%). The median duration of hospitalization before therapy was 2 days and the median duration of antituberculosis therapy was 7 days. Of the 23 untreated tuberculosis patients, 74% died within the first 4 days.
Conclusion: Delay in the detection of tuberculosis was the main factor contributing to death in our patients.