Background: Undiagnosed and misdiagnosed tuberculosis (TB) drives the epidemic in India. Serological (antibody detection) TB tests are not recommended by any agency, but widely used in many countries, including the Indian private sector. The cost and impact of using serology compared with other diagnostic techniques is unknown. Methods and Findings: Taking a patient cohort conservatively equal to the annual number of serological tests done in India (1.5 million adults suspected of having active TB), we used decision analysis to estimate costs and effectiveness of sputum smear microscopy (US$3.62 for two smears), microscopy plus automated liquid culture (mycobacterium growth indicator tube [MGIT], US$20/test), and serological testing (anda-tb ELISA, US$20/test). Data on test accuracy and costs were obtained from published literature. We adopted the perspective of the Indian TB control sector and an analysis frame of 1 year. Our primary outcome was the incremental cost per disability-adjusted life year (DALY) averted. We performed one-way sensitivity analysis on all model parameters, with multiway sensitivity analysis on variables to which the model was most sensitive. If used instead of sputum microscopy, serology generated an estimated 14,000 more TB diagnoses, but also 121,000 more false-positive diagnoses, 102,000 fewer DALYs averted, and 32,000 more secondary TB cases than microscopy, at approximately four times the incremental cost (US$47.5 million versus US$11.9 million). When added to high-quality sputum smears, MGIT culture was estimated to avert 130,000 incremental DALYs at an incremental cost of US$213 per DALY averted. Serology was dominated by (i.e., more costly and less effective than) MGIT culture and remained less economically favorable than sputum smear or TB culture in one-way and multiway sensitivity analyses. Conclusions: In India, sputum smear microscopy remains the most cost-effective diagnostic test available for active TB; efforts to increase access to quality-assured microscopy should take priority. In areas where high-quality microscopy exists and resources are sufficient, MGIT culture is more cost-effective than serology as an additional diagnostic test for TB. These data informed a recently published World Health Organization policy statement against serological tests. Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.
ASJC Scopus subject areas