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A controlled evaluation of filter paper use during staining of sputum smears for tuberculosis microscopy

Bailon, Nataly, Ramos, Eric, Alvarado, Keren, Bernaola, Lenin, Wilson, James, Montoya, Rosario, Valencia, Teresa, Evans, Carlton A and Datta, Sumona (2023) 'A controlled evaluation of filter paper use during staining of sputum smears for tuberculosis microscopy'. Wellcome Open Research, Vol 8, e171.

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Some sputum smear microscopy protocols recommend placing filter paper over sputum smears during staining for Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB) . We found no published evidence assessing whether this is beneficial. We aimed to evaluate the effect of filter paper on sputum smear microscopy results.

Sputum samples were collected from 30 patients with confirmed pulmonary TB and 4 healthy control participants. From each sputum sample, six smears (204 smears in total) were prepared for staining with Ziehl-Neelsen (ZN), auramine or viability staining with fluorescein diacetate (FDA). Half of the slides subjected to each staining protocol were randomly selected to have Whatman grade 3 filter paper placed over the dried smears prior to stain application and removed prior to stain washing. The counts of acid-fast bacilli (AFB) and precipitates per 100 high-power microscopy fields of view, and the proportion of smear that appeared to have been washed away were recorded. Statistical analysis used a linear regression model adjusted by staining technique with a random effects term to correct for between-sample variability.

The inclusion of filter paper in the staining protocol significantly decreased microscopy positivity independent of staining with ZN, auramine or FDA (p=0.01). Consistent with this finding, there were lower smear grades in slides stained using filter paper versus without (p=0.04), and filter paper use reduced AFB counts by 0.28 logarithms (95% confidence intervals, CI=0.018, 0.54, p=0.04) independent of staining technique. In all analyses, auramine was consistently more sensitive with higher AFB counts versus ZN (p=0.001), whereas FDA had lower sensitivity and lower AFB counts (p<0.0001). Filter paper use was not associated with the presence of any precipitate (p=0.5) or the probability of any smear washing away (p=0.6) during the staining process.

Filter paper reduced the sensitivity of AFB microscopy and had no detectable beneficial effects so is not recommended.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: QY Clinical Pathology > Diagnostic Tests > QY 120 Sputum
WF Respiratory System > Tuberculosis > WF 200 Tuberculosis (General)
Faculty: Department: Clinical Sciences & International Health > Clinical Sciences Department
Digital Object Identifer (DOI):
SWORD Depositor: JISC Pubrouter
Depositing User: JISC Pubrouter
Date Deposited: 09 Oct 2023 10:46
Last Modified: 09 Oct 2023 10:46


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