Raj Narain, SS Nair, G Ramanatha Rao & P Chandrasekhar: Bull WHO 1966, 34, 639-54 & Indian J TB 1966, 13, 129-46.

Studies on the distribution of tuberculous infection and disease in households have mostly been restricted to the examination of contacts of known cases. Clinical experience has lead to a strong belief that tuberculosis is a family disease and contact examination is a “must” for case-finding programmes. A representative picture of the distribution of infection and disease in households can be obtained only from a tuberculosis prevalence survey.

This paper reports an investigation, based on a prevalence survey in a rural community in south India. The survey techniques and study population have been described in an earlier report. Briefly, the defacto population was given a tuberculin test with 1 TU of PPD RT 23 with Tween 80 and those aged 10 years and above were examined by 70mm photofluorography. All the X-ray pictures were read by two independent readers. Those with any abnormal shadows by either of the two readers were eligible for examination of a single spot specimen of sputum by direct smear and culture. The defacto population numbered 29,813 and tuberculin test results were available for 27,115. After excluding BCG scars, the study population of 24,474 was distributed over 5,266 households which were further classified as “bacillary case household” with atleast one bacteriologically confirmed case, “X-ray case household” with atleast one radiologically active case but with no bacillary cases and ‘non-case household’ with neither a bacillary nor an X-ray case. Total bacillary cases were 77 and were distributed in 75 household. 74 households had one case each and one household had 3 bacillary cases.

The findings of the study have thrown considerable doubt on the usefulness of contact examination in tuberculosis control; (1) over 80% of the total number of infected persons, in any age group, occurred in households without cases, (2) cases of tuberculosis occurred mostly singly in households, and the chance of finding an additional case by contact examination in the same household is extremely small, (3) a common belief has been that prevalence of infection in children in 0-4 age group is a good index of disease in households, but in this study about 32% of households with cases of tuberculosis had no children in this age group, (4) in houses with bacteriologically confirmed case only 12% of the children in 0-4 age group showed evidence of infection, a possible explanation of such a low intensity of infection could be that there is resistance to infection. It is well known that some children even after repeated BCG vaccination do not become tuberculin positive. It is felt that a large number of children do inhale tubercle bacilli, but a primary complex does not develop or even if it develops, the children remain tuberculin negative. A hypothesis has been made that in addition to resistance to infection, there is something known as “resistance to disease”. Otherwise, it is difficult to explain why under conditions of heavy exposure in infection, only some individuals develop evidence of infection and very few develop disease thereafter.