Evaluation of underweight status may improve identification of the highest-risk patients during outpatient evaluation for pulmonary tuberculosis

Peter J. Kitonsa, Annet Nalutaaya, James Mukiibi, Olga Nakasolya, David Isooba, Caleb Kamoga, Yeonsoo Baik, Katherine Robsky, David W. Dowdy, Achilles Katamba, Emily A. Kendall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background When evaluating symptomatic patients for tuberculosis (TB) without access to same-day diagnostic test results, clinicians often make empiric decisions about starting treatment. The number of TB symptoms and/or underweight status could help identify patients at highest risk for a positive result. We sought to evaluate the usefulness of BMI assessment and a count of characteristic TB symptoms for identifying patients at highest risk for TB. Methods We enrolled adult patients receiving pulmonary TB diagnoses and a representative sample with negative TB evaluations at four outpatient health facilities in Kampala, Uganda. We asked patients about symptoms of chronic cough, night sweats, chest pain, fever, hemoptysis, or weight loss; measured height and weight; and collected sputum for mycobacterial culture. We evaluated the diagnostic accuracy (for culture-positive TB) of two simple scoring systems: (a) number of TB symptoms, and (b) number of TB symptoms plus one or more additional points for underweight status (body mass index [BMI] ≤ 18.5 kg/m2). Results We included 121 patients with culture-positive TB and 370 patients with negative culture results (44 of whom had been recommended for TB treatment by evaluating clinicians). Of the six symptoms assessed, the median number of symptoms that patients reported was two (interquartile range [IQR]: 1, 3). The median BMI was 20.9 kg/m2 (IQR: 18.6, 24.0), and 118 (24%) patients were underweight. Counting the number of symptoms provided an area under the Receiver Operating Characteristic curve (c-statistic) of 0.77 (95% confidence interval, CI: 0.72, 0.81) for identifying culture-positive TB; adding two points for underweight status increased the c-statistic to 0.81 (95%CI: 0.76, 0.85). A cutoff of ≥3 symptoms had sensitivity and specificity of 65% and 74%, whereas a score of ≥4 on the combined score (≥2 symptoms if underweight, ≥4 symptoms if not underweight) gave higher sensitivity and specificity of 69% and 81% respectively. A sensitivity analysis defining TB by Xpert MTB/ RIF status produced similar results. Conclusion A count of patients’ TB symptoms may be useful in clinical decision-making about TB diagnosis. Consideration of underweight status adds additional diagnostic value.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0243542
JournalPloS one
Issue number12 December
StatePublished - Dec 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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