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PLoS One. 2009 May 20;4(5):e5626. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005626.

A pilot study of short-duration sputum pretreatment procedures for optimizing smear microscopy for tuberculosis.

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Department of Medicine, Christian Medical College Vellore, Vellore, India.



Direct sputum smear microscopy for tuberculosis (TB) lacks sensitivity for the detection of acid fast bacilli. Sputum pretreatment procedures may enhance sensitivity. We did a pilot study to compare the diagnostic accuracy and incremental yield of two short-duration (<1 hour) sputum pretreatment procedures to optimize direct smears among patients with suspected TB at a referral hospital in India.


Blinded laboratory comparison of bleach and universal sediment processing (USP) pretreated centrifuged auramine smears to direct Ziehl-Neelsen (ZN) and direct auramine smears and to solid (Loweinstein-Jensen (LJ)) and liquid (BACTEC 460) culture. 178 pulmonary and extrapulmonary TB suspects were prospectively recruited during a one year period. Thirty six (20.2%) were positive by either solid or liquid culture. Direct ZN smear detected 22 of 36 cases and direct auramine smears detected 26 of 36 cases. Bleach and USP centrifugation detected 24 cases each, providing no incremental yield beyond direct smears. When compared to combined culture, pretreated smears were not more sensitive than direct smears (66.6% vs 61.1 (ZN) or 72.2 (auramine)), and were not more specific (92.3% vs 93.0 (ZN) or 97.2 (auramine).


Short duration sputum pretreatment with bleach and USP centrifugation did not increase yield as compared to direct sputum smears. Further work is needed to confirm this in a larger study and also determine if longer duration pre-treatment might be effective in optimizing smear microscopy for TB.

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