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BACKGROUND: Childhood tuberculosis (TB) is usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) culture negative. Furthermore, clinical presentation may be altered by active case finding, isoniazid prophylaxis and early treatment. We aimed to establish the value of presenting symptoms for intrathoracic TB case diagnosis among young children. METHODS: Healthy, HIV-uninfected, South African infants in an efficacy trial of a novel TB vaccine (MVA85A) were followed for 2 years for suspected TB. When suspected, investigation followed a standardized algorithm comprising symptom history, QuantiFERON Gold-in-Tube, chest radiography (CXR), MTB culture and Xpert MTB/RIF from paired gastric lavage and induced sputa. Adjusted odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals describe the associations between symptoms and positive MTB culture or Xpert MTB/RIF, and CXR compatible with intrathoracic TB. RESULTS: Persistent cough was present in 172/1017 (16.9%) of the children investigated for TB. MTB culture/Xpert MTB/RIF was positive in 38/1017 children (3.7%); and CXR was positive, that is, compatible with intrathoracic TB, in 131/1017 children (12.9%). Children with persistent cough had more than triple the odds of a positive MTB culture/Xpert MTB/RIF (adjusted odds ratios: 3.3, 95% confidence interval: 1.5-7.0) and positive CXR (adjusted odds ratios: 3.5, 95% confidence interval: 2.2-5.5). Persistent cough was the only symptom that differentiated children with severe (56.5%) from nonsevere intrathoracic TB disease (28.2%; P = 0.001). CONCLUSION: Persistent cough was the cardinal diagnostic symptom associated with microbiologic and radiologic evidence, and disease severity, of intrathoracic TB. Symptom-based definitions of TB disease for diagnostic, preventive and therapeutic studies should prioritize persistent cough above other symptoms compatible with childhood TB.

Original publication




Journal article


Pediatr Infect Dis J

Publication Date





1157 - 1162


Child, Preschool, Female, Humans, Infant, Male, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Predictive Value of Tests, Tuberculosis, Pulmonary