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Free Content African pouched rats for the detection of pulmonary tuberculosis in sputum samples

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SETTING: Resource-limited settings in sub-Saharan African countries.

OBJECTIVE: To utilise African giant pouched rats (Cricetomys gambianus) for the diagnosis of tuberculosis (TB) in human sputum.

DESIGN: A specially designed cage with 10 sniffing holes and cassette-carrier was used. The sputum samples were put in the sample cassette, containing 10 samples in line, placed under matching sniffing holes. Rats were trained to sniff each consecutive sample, and indicate TB positives by fixing their nose for 5 seconds at the sniffing hole. This behaviour was maintained by food reinforcement upon correct indications. A total of 3416 samples were used.

RESULTS: Of the 20 trained rats, 18 were able to discriminate positive from negative sputum samples, with average daily sensitivities ranging from 72% to 100%, and average daily false-positives ranging from 0.7% to 8.1%. The use of multiple rats significantly increased sensitivity and negative predictive value.

CONCLUSION: Utilising trained sniffer rats for TB detection is a potentially faster screening method and is at least as sensitive as smear microscopy. This method could therefore be suitable for active case finding, especially where large numbers of samples are to be analysed in resource-limited settings, to complement existing diagnostic techniques.
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Keywords: Mycobacterium; TB diagnosis; olfaction; pulmonary tuberculosis; sniffer rats

Document Type: Regular Paper

Affiliations: 1: Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende Product Ontwikelling (APOPO), Antwerp, Belgium 2: Sokoine University of Agriculture, Morogoro, Tanzania 3: National Institute for Medical Research, Muhimbili Medical Research Centre, Dares Salaam, Tanzania 4: National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Programme, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania 5: University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium 6: Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD)/APOPO Project, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Morogoro, Tanzania

Publication date: 01 June 2009

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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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