Background: The incidence of tuberculosis and drug resistance is increasing in the United States, but it is not clear how much of the increase is due to reactivation of latent infection and how much to recent transmission.
Methods: We performed DNA fingerprinting using restriction-fragment-length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis of at least one isolate from every patient with confirmed tuberculosis at a major hospital in the Bronx, New York, from December 1, 1989, through December 31, 1992. Medical records and census-tract data were reviewed for relevant clinical, social, and demographic data.
Results: Of 130 patients with tuberculosis, 104 adults (80 percent) had complete medical records and isolates whose DNA fingerprints could be evaluated. Isolates from 65 patients (62.5 percent) had unique RFLP patterns, whereas isolates from 39 patients (37.5 percent) had RFLP patterns that were identical to those of an isolate from at least 1 other study patient; the isolates in the latter group were classified into 12 clusters. Patients whose isolates were included in one of the clusters were inferred to have recently transmitted disease. Independent risk factors for having a clustered isolate included seropositivity for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) (odds ratio for Hispanic patients, 4.31; P = 0.02; for non-Hispanic patients, 3.12; P = 0.07), Hispanic ethnicity combined with HIV seronegativity (odds ratio, 5.13; P = 0.05), infection with drug-resistant tuberculosis (odds ratio, 4.52; P = 0.005), and younger age (odds ratio, 1.59; P = 0.02). Residence in sections of the Bronx with a median household income below $20,000 was also associated with having a clustered isolate (odds ratio, 3.22; P = 0.04).
Conclusions: In the inner-city community we studied, recently transmitted tuberculosis accounts for approximately 40 percent of the incident cases and almost two thirds of drug-resistant cases. Recent transmission of tuberculosis, and not only reactivation of latent disease, contributes substantially to the increase in tuberculosis.