Background: a study was undertaken to establish the chronic effect of initial and recurrent treated pulmonary tuberculosis on impairment of lung function. Methods: a total of 27,650 black South African gold miners who had reliable pulmonary function tests from January 1995 to August 1996 were retrospectively followed for the incidence of pulmonary tuberculosis to 1970. The lung function measurements in 1995-6 were related to the number of previous episodes of tuberculosis and to the time that had lapsed from the diagnosis of the last episode of tuberculosis to the lung function test. Miners without tuberculosis or pneumoconiosis served as a comparison group. Results: there were 2137 miners who had one episode of tuberculosis, 366 who had two, and 96 who had three or more episodes. The average time between the diagnosis of the last episode: of tuberculosis sand the lung function test was 4.6 years (range one month to 31 years). The loss of lung function was highest within six months of the diagnosis of tuberculosis and stabilised after 12 months when the loss was considered to be chronic. The estimated average chronic deficit in forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) after one, two, and three or more episodes of tuberculosis was 153 mi, 326 mi, and 410 mi, respectively. The corresponding: deficits for forced vital capacity (FVC) were 96 ml, 286 ml, and 345 mi. The loss of function due to tuberculosis was not biased by the presence of MV as HIV positive and HIV negative subjects had similar losses. The percentage of subjects with chronic airflow impairment (FEV1 <80% predicted) was 18.4% in those with one episode, 27.1% in those with two, and 35.2% in those with three or more episodes of tuberculosis. Conclusions: tuberculosis can cause chronic impairment of lung function which increases incrementally with the number of episodes of tuberculosis. Clearly, prevention of tuberculosis and its effect on lung function is important and can be achieved by early detection and by reduction of the risk of tuberculosis through intervention on risk factors sucks as HIV, silica dust exposure, silicosis, and socioeconomic factors.
E Hnizdo, NIOSH, 1095 Willowdale Rd, MS PB 163, Morgantown, WV 26505