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PLoS One. 2012;7(9):e45554. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0045554. Epub 2012 Sep 27.

Is one sputum specimen as good as two during follow-up cultures for monitoring multi drug resistant tuberculosis patients in India?

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Office of the WHO-Representative in India, World Health Organization, New Delhi, India.



In India, the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme (RNTCP) has adopted the strategy of examining two specimens during follow-up culture examinations to monitor the treatment response of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) patients.


To determine the incremental yield of the second sputum specimen during follow-up culture examinations among patients with MDR-TB and the effect on case management on changing from two to one specimen follow-up strategy.


A cross sectional record review of MDR-TB patients registered during 2008-09 under RNTCP was undertaken in three MDR-TB treatment sites of India.


Of 1721 pairs of follow-up sputum culture examinations done among 220 MDR-TB patients, 451(26%) were positive with either of the two specimens; 29(1.7%) were culture positive only on the second specimen indicating the incremental yield. To detect one additional culture positive result on the second specimen, 59 specimens needed to be processed. If we had examined only one specimen, we would have missed 29 culture-positive results. By current RNTCP guidelines, however, a single specimen policy would have altered case management in only 3(0.2%) instances, where patients would have missed a one month extension of the intensive phase of MDR-TB treatment. There is no meaningful advantage in using two specimens for the monitoring of MDR-TB patients. A single specimen policy could be safely implemented with negligible clinical effect on MDR-TB patients and favourable resource implications for RNTCP.

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