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Homelessness increases the risk of tuberculosis (TB) disease and latent TB infection (LTBI), but persons experiencing homelessness often lack access to testing and treatment. We assessed the yield of TB testing and linkage to care for programs targeting homeless populations in the United States.
We conducted a comprehensive search of peer-reviewed and grey literature, adapting Cochrane systematic review methods. Two reviewers independently assessed study eligibility and abstracted key data on the testing to care cascade: number of persons reached, recruited for testing, tested for LTBI, with valid test results, referred to follow-up care, and initiating care. We used random effects to calculate pooled proportions and 95% confidence intervals (CI) of persons retained in each step via inverse-variance weighted meta-analysis, and cumulative proportions as products of adjacent step proportions.
We identified 23 studies published between 1986 and 2014, conducted in 12 states and 15 cities. Among studies using tuberculin skin tests (TST) we found that 93.7% (CI 72.4-100%) of persons reached were recruited, 97.9% (89.3-100%) of those recruited had tests placed, 85.5% (78.6-91.3%) of those with tests placed returned for reading, 99.9% (99.6-100%) of those with tests read had valid results, and 24.7% (21.0-28.5%) with valid results tested positive. All persons testing positive were referred to follow-up care, and 99.8% attended at least one session of follow-up care. Heterogeneity was high for most pooled proportions. For a hypothetical cohort of 1000 persons experiencing homelessness reached by a targeted testing program using TST, an estimated 917 were tested, 194 were positive, and all of these initiated follow-up care.
Targeted TB testing of persons experiencing homelessness appears effective in detecting LTBI and connecting persons to care and potential treatment. Future evaluations should assess diagnostic use of interferon gamma release assays and completion of treatment, and costs of testing and treatment.