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Last century, global control efforts began to reduce the incidence (number of new cases in a population in a given time) and prevalence (the number of affected people in a population) of LTBI and TB in many countries. Now, the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains is thwarting these efforts. Consequently, it is important to identify settings where TB transmission is particularly high. One such setting is thought to be prisons. In these facilities, overcrowding, late case detection, inadequate treatment, and poor implementation of infection control measures (including incomplete segregation of people with active TB) might increase the TB transmission rate. However, it is not known how many people in prison become infected with M. tuberculosis or develop TB each year compared to the general population nor what percentage of LTBI and TB in the general population is attributable to exposure to M. tuberculosis in prison (the population attributable fraction or PAF%). Here, the researchers undertake a systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic) to investigate the incidence of TB in prisons.

The researchers identified 23 studies that reported the incidence of LTBI and/or TB in prisons among both staff and prisoners. They estimated the incidence of TB in relevant general populations using World Health Organization data; estimates of the incidence of LTBI in the general population came from the studies themselves. The researchers then calculated the ratio between the incidence rates for LTBI and TB in prison and in the general population (incidence rate ratios or IRRs) for each study. For both LTBI and TB, the IRR varied widely between studies. The average IRR for LTBI was 26.4. That is, the average incidence of LTBI in prisons was 26.4 times higher than in the general population; the average IRR for TB was 23.0. The researchers also estimated the fraction of TB in the general population attributable to within-prison exposure to M. tuberculosis for each study. Again, there was considerable heterogeneity between the studies but, on average, the PAF% for TB in high-income countries was 8.5% (that is, one in 11 cases of TB in the general population was attributable to within-prison spread of TB); in middle-to-low–income countries, the average PAF% was 6.3%.


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Baussano I, Williams BG, Nunn P, Beggiato M, Fedeli U, Scano F. PLoS Med. 2010 Dec 21;7(12):e1000381.