Low cost automated whole smear microscopy screening system for detection of acid fast bacilli

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© 2018 Law et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Background In countries with high tuberculosis (TB) burden, there is urgent need for rapid, large-scale screening to detect smear-positive patients. We developed a computer-aided whole smear screening system that focuses in real-time, captures images and provides diagnostic grading, for both bright-field and fluorescence microscopy for detection of acid-fast-bacilli (AFB) from respiratory specimens. Objectives To evaluate the performance of dual-mode screening system in AFB diagnostic algorithms on concentrated smears with auramine O (AO) staining, as well as direct smears with AO and Ziehl-Neelsen (ZN) staining, using mycobacterial culture results as gold standard. Methods Adult patient sputum samples requesting for M. tuberculosis cultures were divided into three batches for staining: direct AO-stained, direct ZN-stained and concentrated smears AO-stained. All slides were graded by an experienced microscopist, in parallel with the automated whole smear screening system. Sensitivity and specificity of a TB diagnostic algorithm in using the screening system alone, and in combination with a microscopist, were evaluated. Results Of 488 direct AO-stained smears, 228 were culture positive. These yielded a sensitivity of 81.6% and specificity of 74.2%. Of 334 direct smears with ZN staining, 142 were culture positive, which gave a sensitivity of 70.4% and specificity of 76.6%. Of 505 concentrated smears with AO staining, 250 were culture positive, giving a sensitivity of 86.4% and specificity of 71.0%. To further improve performance, machine grading was confirmed by manual smear grading when the number of AFBs detected fell within an uncertainty range. These combined results gave significant improvement in specificity (AO-direct:85.4%; ZN-direct:85.4%; AO-concentrated:92.5%) and slight improvement in sensitivity while requiring only limited manual workload. Conclusion Our system achieved high sensitivity without substantially compromising specificity when compared to culture results. Significant improvement in specificity was obtained when uncertain results were confirmed by manual smear grading. This approach had potential to substantially reduce workload of microscopists in high burden countries.




Law, Y. N., Jian, H., Lo, N. W. S., Ip, M., Chan, M. M. Y., Kam, K. M., & Wu, X. (2018). Low cost automated whole smear microscopy screening system for detection of acid fast bacilli. PLoS ONE, 13(1). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0190988

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