BACKGROUND: Clinical observations over a 12 year period have suggested a changing pattern of adult respiratory tuberculosis in patients from the Indian subcontinent in two districts of the United Kingdom with a high incidence of tuberculosis. METHODS: Details of all patients for the period 1981-92 residing in the Newham and Blackburn districts aged 15 and over whose ethnic origin was from the Indian subcontinent (n = 1308) were analysed by stepwise logistic regression to determine the relationship between sputum smear positivity, sputum culture positivity, and isolated mediastinal lymphadenopathy, year of notification, age, sex, ethnic group (Indian or Pakistani), and whether the patient had visited the Indian subcontinent within the last three years. RESULTS: The proportion of cases who were smear positive rose over the 12 years of the study, as did the proportion of culture positive cases. The proportion with isolated mediastinal lymphadenopathy fell. These changes took place in both districts. They were not explained by demographic changes in age, sex, or ethnic group, nor was there evidence that smear and culture positivity increased in those who had recently visited India or Pakistan. CONCLUSIONS: The pattern of tuberculosis in adult patients originating from the Indian subcontinent has altered over time towards that seen in the white population in the UK.
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