Seasonality in tuberculosis incidence has been widely observed across countries and populations; however, its drivers are poorly understood. We conducted a systematic review of studies reporting seasonal patterns in tuberculosis to identify demographic and ecologic factors associated with timing and magnitude of seasonal variation.
We identified studies reporting seasonal variation in tuberculosis incidence through PubMed and EMBASE and extracted incidence data and population metadata. We described key factors relating to seasonality and, when data permitted, quantified seasonal variation and its association with metadata. We developed a dynamic tuberculosis natural history and transmission model incorporating seasonal differences in disease progression and/or transmission rates to examine magnitude of variation required to produce observed seasonality in incidence.
Fifty-seven studies met inclusion criteria. In the majority of studies (n=49), tuberculosis incidence peaked in spring or summer and reached a trough in late fall or winter. A standardized seasonal amplitude was calculated for 34 of the studies, resulting in a mean of 17.1% (range: 2.7–85.5%) after weighting by sample size. Across multiple studies, stronger seasonality was associated with younger patients, extrapulmonary disease, and latitudes farther from the Equator. The mathematical model was generally able to reproduce observed levels of seasonal case variation; however, substantial variation in transmission or disease progression risk was required to replicate several extreme values.
We observed seasonal variation in tuberculosis, with consistent peaks occurring in spring, across countries with varying tuberculosis burden. Future research is needed to explore and quantify potential gains from strategically conducting mass screening interventions in the spring.