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BMC Res Notes. 2011; 4: 475.
Published online 2011 November 1. doi:  10.1186/1756-0500-4-475
PMCID: PMC3216301

Sputum smear negative pulmonary tuberculosis: sensitivity and specificity of diagnostic algorithm



The diagnosis of pulmonary tuberculosis in patients with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is complicated by the increased presence of sputum smear negative tuberculosis. Diagnosis of smear negative pulmonary tuberculosis is made by an algorithm recommended by the National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Programme that uses symptoms, signs and laboratory results.

The objective of this study is to determine the sensitivity and specificity of the tuberculosis treatment algorithm used for the diagnosis of sputum smear negative pulmonary tuberculosis.


A cross-section study with prospective enrollment of patients was conducted in Dar-es-Salaam Tanzania. For patients with sputum smear negative, sputum was sent for culture. All consenting recruited patients were counseled and tested for HIV. Patients were evaluated using the National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Programme guidelines and those fulfilling the criteria of having active pulmonary tuberculosis were started on anti tuberculosis therapy. Remaining patients were provided appropriate therapy. A chest X-ray, mantoux test, and Full Blood Picture were done for each patient. The sensitivity and specificity of the recommended algorithm was calculated. Predictors of sputum culture positive were determined using multivariate analysis.


During the study, 467 subjects were enrolled. Of those, 318 (68.1%) were HIV positive, 127 (27.2%) had sputum culture positive for Mycobacteria Tuberculosis, of whom 66 (51.9%) were correctly treated with anti-Tuberculosis drugs and 61 (48.1%) were missed and did not get anti-Tuberculosis drugs. Of the 286 subjects with sputum culture negative, 107 (37.4%) were incorrectly treated with anti-Tuberculosis drugs. The diagnostic algorithm for smear negative pulmonary tuberculosis had a sensitivity and specificity of 38.1% and 74.5% respectively. The presence of a dry cough, a high respiratory rate, a low eosinophil count, a mixed type of anaemia and presence of a cavity were found to be predictive of smear negative but culture positive pulmonary tuberculosis.


The current practices of establishing pulmonary tuberculosis diagnosis are not sensitive and specific enough to establish the diagnosis of Acid Fast Bacilli smear negative pulmonary tuberculosis and over treat people with no pulmonary tuberculosis.

Keywords: Sputum smear negative, Human Immunodeficiency Virus, Symptoms

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