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Effectiveness of real-time polymerase chain reaction assay for the detection of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in pathological samples: a systematic review and meta-analysis

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Background - Rapid and accurate diagnosis of tuberculosis (TB) is key to manage the disease and to control and prevent its transmission. Many established diagnostic methods suffer from low sensitivity or delay of timely results and are inadequate for rapid detection of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) in pulmonary and extra-pulmonary clinical samples. This study examined whether a real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assay, with a turn-a-round time of 2 h, would prove effective for routine detection of MTB by clinical microbiology laboratories.

Methods - A systematic literature search was performed for publications in any language on the detection of MTB in pathological samples by RT-PCR assay. The following sources were used MEDLINE via PubMed, EMBASE, BIOSIS Citation Index, Web of Science, SCOPUS, ISI Web of Knowledge and Cochrane Infectious Diseases Group Specialised Register, grey literature, World Health Organization and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention websites. Forty-six studies met set inclusion criteria. Generated pooled summary estimates (95% CIs) were calculated for overall accuracy and bivariate meta-regression model was used for meta-analysis.

Results - Summary estimates for pulmonary TB (31 studies) were as follows: sensitivity 0.82 (95% CI 0.81–0.83), specificity 0.99 (95% CI 0.99–0.99), positive likelihood ratio 43.00 (28.23–64.81), negative likelihood ratio 0.16 (0.12–0.20), diagnostic odds ratio 324.26 (95% CI 189.08–556.09) and area under curve 0.99. Summary estimates for extra-pulmonary TB (25 studies) were as follows: sensitivity 0.70 (95% CI 0.67–0.72), specificity 0.99 (95% CI 0.99–0.99), positive likelihood ratio 29.82 (17.86–49.78), negative likelihood ratio 0.33 (0.26–0.42), diagnostic odds ratio 125.20 (95% CI 65.75–238.36) and area under curve 0.96.

Conclusions - RT-PCR assay demonstrated a high degree of sensitivity for pulmonary TB and good sensitivity for extra-pulmonary TB. It indicated a high degree of specificity for ruling in TB infection from sampling regimes. This was acceptable, but may better as a rule out add-on diagnostic test. RT-PCR assays demonstrate both a high degree of sensitivity in pulmonary samples and rapidity of detection of TB which is an important factor in achieving effective global control and for patient management in terms of initiating early and appropriate anti-tubercular therapy.
Original languageEnglish
Article number215
JournalSystematic Reviews
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 25 Dec 2017


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