Test 'speeds up TB diagnosis'

Using a sputum test to diagnose TB could be a quick and simple alternative to existing three-day methods, research has suggested.

The UK study showed that the test, which involves taking three sputum samples from a patient over the course of one day, was as effective as other more invasive and complicated testing methods, such as bronchoscopy and gastric washing.

The incidence of TB in the UK is increasing, with around 8,000 new cases detected each year, according to the Health Protection Agency (HPA).

For the latest research, 140 participants presenting with abnormal chest radiography findings consistent with active TB each provided three sputum samples and three gastric washing specimens.

Participants used a nebuliser to inhale 30ml of hypertonic saline for 20 minutes. This enabled them to produce sputum samples from deep inside the lungs.

The collected samples were centrifuged for 15 minutes. Cultures containing the mycobacterium tuberculosis were then grown and referred to the HPA for identification and antimicrobial resistance testing.

Use of three sputum specimens correctly detected TB in 39 per cent of the 140 patients who were examined.

Gastric washing was only successful in detecting 30 per cent of TB cases from the same group.

Study researcher Dr Robert Davidson, from the division of medicine at Imperial College in London, said: 'By doing all the tests in one day, we can start treatment sooner and get patients home sooner.'

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