Background:Light emitting diode (LED) fluorescence microscopy (FM) is an affordable, technology targeted for use in resource-limited settings and recommended for widespread roll-out by the World Health Organization (WHO). We sought to compare the operational performance of three LED FM methods compared to light microscopy in a cohort of HIV-positive tuberculosis (TB) suspects at an urban clinic in a high TB burden country.Methods:Two spot specimens collected from TB suspects were included in the study. Smears were stained using auramine O method and read after blinding by three LED-based FM methods by trained laboratory technicians in the Infectious Diseases Institutelaboratory. Leftover portions of the refrigerated sputum specimens were transported to the FIND Tuberculosis Research Laboratory for Ziehl Neelsen (ZN) smear preparation and reading by experienced technologist as well as liquid and solid culture.Results:174 of 627 (27.8%) specimens collected yielded one or more positive mycobacterial cultures. 94.3% (164/174) were M. tuberculosis complex. LED FM was between 7.3-11.0% more sensitive compared to ZN microscopy. Of the 592 specimens examined by all microscopy methods, there was no significant difference in sensitivity between the three LED FM methods. The specificity of the LED FM methods was between 6.1% and 7.7% lower than ZN microscopy (P<0.001), although exclusion of the single poor reader resulted in over 98% specificity for all FM methods.Conclusions:Laboratory technicians in routine settings can be trained to use FM which is more sensitive than ZN microscopy. Despite rigorous proficiency testing, there were operator-dependent accuracy issues which highlight the critical need for intensive quality assurance procedures during LED FM implementation. The low sensitivity of FM for HIV-positive individuals particularly those with low CD4 T cell counts, will limit the number of additional patients found by LED FM in countries with high rates of HIV co-infection.
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