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Free Content Viability of stored sputum specimens for smear microscopy and culture [Notes from the Field]

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A laboratory study was performed to determine how long sputum specimens from smear-positive tuberculosis patients can be stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator and retain a positive acid-fast bacilli (AFB) smear or a positive mycobacterial culture. Sputum samples from 30 patients were examined up to 4 weeks and samples from 13 patients examined up to 8 weeks. Provided samples had not dried out, all sputum smears remained AFB positive up to 4 and 8 weeks. In both patient groups, at 4 weeks 37–39% of specimens at room temperature grew mycobacteria compared with 54–67% of specimens stored in the refrigerator. These results have implications for tuberculosis programme policy.

Keywords: mycobacterial culture; smear microscopy; sputum

Document Type: Short Communication

Affiliations: 1: National Tuberculosis Control Programme, Community Health, Science Unit, Lilongwe, Malawi; and Department of Medicine, College of Medicine, Chichiri, Blantyre, Malawi 2: National Tuberculosis Control Programme, Community Health, Science Unit, Lilongwe, Malawi

Publication date: March 1, 2000

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  • The International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease publishes articles on all aspects of lung health, including public health-related issues such as training programmes, cost-benefit analysis, legislation, epidemiology, intervention studies and health systems research. The IJTLD is dedicated to the continuing education of physicians and health personnel and the dissemination of information on tuberculosis and lung health world-wide.

    Certain IJTLD articles are selected for translation into French, Spanish, Chinese or Russian. They are available on the Union website

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