Resistance at No Cost: The Transmissibility and Potential for Disease Progression of Drug-Resistant M. Tuberculosis

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Background: The future trajectory of drug resistant tuberculosis strongly depends on the fitness costs of drug resistance mutations. Here, we measured the association of phenotypic drug resistance and the risk of TB infection and disease among household contacts (HHCs) of patients with pulmonary TB.

Methods: We evaluated 12767 HHCs of patients with drug sensitive and resistant pulmonary TB at baseline, two, six, and 12 months to ascertain infection status and to determine whether they developed tuberculosis disease. We also assessed the impact of drug resistance phenotype on the likelihood that a TB strain shared a genetic fingerprint with at least one other TB patient in the cohort.

Findings: Among 3339 TB patients for whom were DST available, 1274 (38%) had TB that was resistant to at least one drug and 478 (14⋅3%) had multi-drug resistant (MDR) TB, i.e. TB resistant to both INH and rifampicin. Compared to HHCs of drug sensitive TB patients, those exposed to a patient with MDR-TB had an 8% (95% CI: 4-13%) higher risk of infection by the end of follow up. We found no statistically significant difference in the relative hazard of incident TB disease among HHCs exposed to MDR-TB compared to DS-TB (Adjusted HR 1⋅28 [(95% CI: ⋅9-1⋅83]). Patients with MDR-TB were more likely to be part of a genetic cluster than were DS-TB patients.

Interpretation: Clinical strains of MDR M. tuberculosis are neither less transmissible than drug sensitive strains nor less likely to cause disease.


Complete list of authors: Ted Cohen, Carole D. Mitnick, Paul Farmer, Megan Murray

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British Medical Journal, in press