Objectives: To systematically review the evidence for the impact of study design and setting on the interpretation of tuberculosis (TB) transmission using clustering derived from Mycobacterial Interspersed Repetitive Units-Variable Number Tandem Repeats (MIRU-VNTR) strain typing. Data sources: MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINHAL, Web of Science and Scopus were searched for articles published before 21st October 2014. Review methods: Studies in humans that reported the proportion of clustering of TB isolates by MIRU-VNTR were included in the analysis. Univariable meta-regression analyses were conducted to assess the influence of study design and setting on the proportion of clustering. Results: The search identified 27 eligible articles reporting clustering between 0% and 63%. The number of MIRU-VNTR loci typed, requiring consent to type patient isolates (as a proxy for sampling fraction), the TB incidence and the maximum cluster size explained 14%, 14%, 27% and 48% of between-study variation, respectively, and had a significant association with the proportion of clustering. Conclusions: Although MIRU-VNTR typing is being adopted worldwide there is a paucity of data on how study design and setting may influence estimates of clustering. We have highlighted study design variables for consideration in the design and interpretation of future studies.
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