In this prospective, real-world cohort study nested within a national screening program for tuberculosis, Lesley Scott and colleagues compare the performance of Xpert MTB/RIF on a single sputum sample with different TB sputum detection technologies.
The Xpert MTB/RIF (Cepheid) non-laboratory-based molecular assay has potential to improve the diagnosis of tuberculosis (TB), especially in HIV-infected populations, through increased sensitivity, reduced turnaround time (2 h), and immediate identification of rifampicin (RIF) resistance. In a prospective clinical validation study we compared the performance of Xpert MTB/RIF, MTBDRplus (Hain Lifescience), LightCycler Mycobacterium Detection (LCTB) (Roche), with acid fast bacilli (AFB) smear microscopy and liquid culture on a single sputum specimen.
Methods and Findings
Consecutive adults with suspected TB attending a primary health care clinic in Johannesburg, South Africa, were prospectively enrolled and evaluated for TB according to the guidelines of the National TB Control Programme, including assessment for smear-negative TB by chest X-ray, clinical evaluation, and HIV testing. A single sputum sample underwent routine decontamination, AFB smear microscopy, liquid culture, and phenotypic drug susceptibility testing. Residual sample was batched for molecular testing. For the 311 participants, the HIV prevalence was 70% (n = 215), with 120 (38.5%) culture-positive TB cases. Compared to liquid culture, the sensitivities of all the test methodologies, determined with a limited and potentially underpowered sample size (n = 177), were 59% (47%–71%) for smear microscopy, 76% (64%–85%) for MTBDRplus, 76% (64%–85%) for LCTB, and 86% (76%–93%) for Xpert MTB/RIF, with specificities all >97%. Among HIV+ individuals, the sensitivity of the Xpert MTB/RIF test was 84% (69%–93%), while the other molecular tests had sensitivities reduced by 6%. TB detection among smear-negative, culture-positive samples was 28% (5/18) for MTBDRplus, 22% (4/18) for LCTB, and 61% (11/18) for Xpert MTB/RIF. A few (n = 5) RIF-resistant cases were detected using the phenotypic drug susceptibility testing methodology. Xpert MTB/RIF detected four of these five cases (fifth case not tested) and two additional phenotypically sensitive cases.
The Xpert MTB/RIF test has superior performance for rapid diagnosis of Mycobacterium tuberculosis over existing AFB smear microscopy and other molecular methodologies in an HIV- and TB-endemic region. Its place in the clinical diagnostic algorithm in national health programs needs exploration.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Tuberculosis (TB)—a contagious bacterial infection that mainly affects the lungs—is a global public health problem. In 2009, 9.4 million people developed TB, and 1.7 million people died from the disease; a quarter of these deaths were in HIV-positive individuals. People who are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, are particularly susceptible to TB because of their weakened immune system. Consequently, TB is a leading cause of illness and death among people living with HIV. TB is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which is spread in airborne droplets when people with the disease cough or sneeze. Its characteristic symptoms are a persistent cough, night sweats, and weight loss. Diagnostic tests for TB include sputum smear analysis (the microscopic examination of mucus brought up from the lungs by coughing for the presence of M. tuberculosis) and mycobacterial liquid culture (in which bacteriologists try to grow M. tuberculosis from sputum samples and test its drug sensitivity). TB can usually be cured by taking several powerful drugs daily for at least six months.
Why Was This Study Done?
Mycobacterial culture is a sensitive but slow way to diagnose TB. To halt the disease's spread, it is essential that TB—particularly TB that is resistant to several treatment drugs (multidrug-resistant, or MDR, TB)—is diagnosed quickly. Recently, several nucleic acid amplification technology (NAAT) tests have been developed that rapidly detect M. tuberculosis DNA in patient samples and look for DNA changes that make M. tuberculosis drug-resistant. In December 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) endorsed Xpert MTB/RIF—an automated DNA test that detects M. tuberculosis and rifampicin resistance (an indicator of MDR TB) within two hours—for the investigation of patients who might have TB, especially in regions where MDR TB and HIV infection are common. TB diagnosis in HIV-positive people can be difficult because they are more likely to have smear-negative TB than HIV-negative individuals. In this prospective study, the researchers compare the performance of Xpert MTB/RIF on a single sputum sample with that of smear microscopy, liquid culture, and two other NAAT tests (MTBDRplus and LightCycler Mycobacterium Detection) in adults who might have TB in Johannesburg (South Africa), a region where many adults are HIV-positive.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers evaluated adults with potential TB attending a primary health care clinic for TB according to national guidelines and determined their HIV status. A sputum sample from 311 participants underwent smear microscopy, liquid culture, and drug susceptibility testing; 177 samples were also tested for TB using NAAT tests. They found that 70% of the participants were HIV-positive and 38.5% had culture-positive TB. Compared to liquid culture, smear microscopy, MTBDRplus, LightCycler Mycobacterium Detection, and Xpert MTB/RIF had sensitivities of 59%, 76%, 76%, and 86%, respectively. That is, assuming that liquid culture detected everyone with TB, Xpert MTB/RIF detected 86% of the cases. The specificity of all the tests compared to liquid culture was greater than 97%. That is, they all had a low false-positive rate. Among people who were HIV-positive, the sensitivity of Xpert MTB/RIF was 84%; the sensitivities of the other NAAT tests were 70%. Moreover, Xpert MTB/RIF detected TB in 61% of smear-negative, culture-positive samples, whereas the other NAATs detected TB in only about a quarter of these samples. Finally, although some TB cases were identified as drug-resistant by one test but drug-sensitive by another, the small number of drug-resistant cases means no firm conclusions can be made about the accuracy of drug resistance determination by the various tests.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Although these findings are likely to be affected by the study's small size, they suggest that Xpert MTB/RIF may provide a more accurate rapid diagnosis of TB than smear microscopy and other currently available NAAT tests in regions where HIV and TB are endemic (i.e., always present). Indeed, the reported accuracy of Xpert MTB/RIF for TB diagnosis—85% sensitivity and 97% specificity—has the potential to save more than 400,000 lives per year. Taken together with the results of other recent studies (including an accompanying article by Lawn et al. that investigates the use of Xpert MTB/RIF for screening for HIV-associated TB and rifampicin resistance), these findings support the WHO recommendation that Xpert MTB/RIF, rather than smear microscopy, should be the initial test in HIV-infected individuals who might have TB.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001061.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Carlton Evans; a related PLoS Medicine Research Article by Lawn et al. is also available
WHO provides information (in several languages) on all aspects of tuberculosis, including general information on tuberculosis diagnostics and specific information on the Xpert MTB/RIF test; further information about WHO's endorsement of Xpert MTB/RIF is included in a recent Strategic and Technical Advisory Group for Tuberculosis report
WHO also provides information about tuberculosis and HIV
The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has detailed information on tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has information about tuberculosis, including information on the diagnosis of and on tuberculosis and HIV co-infection
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on HIV-related tuberculosis (in English and Spanish)