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SMaRT-PCR: sampling using masks and RT-PCR, a non-invasive diagnostic tool for paediatric pulmonary TB

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BACKGROUND

Key challenges in paediatric TB diagnosis are invasive sampling and poor sensitivity of standard methods. This study demonstrates the diagnostic potential of non-invasive sampling of bioaerosols from children using SMaRT-PCR, comprising mask sampling combined with reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) for TB.

METHODS

Exhaled bioaerosols were captured on modified N-95 masks in a 10-min talk-cough-breathe process from 51 children (30 with TB confirmed using standard sampling methods and 21 without TB) aged 2–15 years. All mask samples were tested using in-house RT-PCR for 16s and rpoB RNA transcripts. Additional mask samples from children with TB were tested using Xpert® MTB/RIF (n = 3) and Xpert® MTB/RIF Ultra (n = 27).

RESULTS

SMaRT-PCR sensitivity for detecting TB among treatment-naïve children was 96% if 16s or rpoB was present, and 75% if both genes were present, comparable to standard methods (71%) in the same cohort. Specificity was better for both genes, at 95%, than 85% for a single gene detection. Mask sampling with Xpert MTB/RIF or Ultra had a sensitivity of only 13%.

CONCLUSION

This is the first study to provide evidence for testing bioaerosols as a promising alternative for detecting paediatric TB. Sampling is non-invasive and simple, with the potential for point-of-care applications. This pilot study also suggests that RNA transcript-based detection may improve TB diagnostic sensitivity in children; however, further investigation is required to establish its adaptability in clinical settings.

Keywords: mask sampling; non-invasive diagnosis; paediatric TB; reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction; tuberculosis

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: The Foundation for Medical Research, Mumbai, 2: Paediatric TB Clinic, State Centre of Excellence for Paediatric DR-TB, Department of Paediatric Infectious Diseases, B.J. Wadia Hospital for Children, Mumbai, 3: Vikas Nursing Home, Mumbai, 4: State Centre of Excellence for Tuberculosis, Grant Medical College, Sir JJ Group of Hospitals, Mumbai, India

Publication date: April 1, 2024

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  • The International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (IJTLD) is for clinical research and epidemiological studies on lung health, including articles on TB, TB-HIV and respiratory diseases such as COVID-19, asthma, COPD, child lung health and the hazards of tobacco and air pollution. Individuals and institutes can subscribe to the IJTLD online or in print – simply email us at [email protected] for details.

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