Retreatment tuberculosis (TB) disease is common in high-prevalence settings. The risk of repeated episodes of recurrent TB is unknown. We calculated the rate of recurrent TB per subsequent episode by matching individual treatment episodes over a period of 13 years.
All recorded TB episodes in Cape Town between 2003 and 2016 were matched by probabilistic linkage of personal identifiers. Among individuals with a first episode notified in Cape Town and who completed their prior treatment successfully we estimated the recurrence rate stratified by subsequent episode and HIV status. We adjusted person-time to background mortality by age, sex, and HIV status.
A total of 292 915 TB episodes among 263 848 individuals were included. The rate of recurrent TB was 16.4 per 1000 person-years (95% CI, 16.2–16.6), and increased per subsequent episode (8.4-fold increase, from 14.6 to 122.7 per 1000 from episode 2 to 6, respectively). These increases were similar stratified by HIV status. Rates among HIV positives were higher than among HIV negatives for episodes 2 and 3 (2- and 1.5-fold higher, respectively), and the same thereafter.
TB recurrence rates were high and increased per subsequent episode, independent of HIV status. This suggests that HIV infection is insufficient to explain the high burden of recurrence; it is more likely due to a high annual risk of infection combined with an increased risk of infection or progression to disease associated with a previous TB episode. The very high recurrence rates would justify increased TB surveillance of patients with >1 episode.