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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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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.


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).


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%.


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.

    The IJTLD is dedicated to understanding lung disease and to the dissemination of knowledge leading to better lung health. To allow us to share scientific research as rapidly as possible, the IJTLD is fast-tracking the publication of certain articles as preprints prior to their publication. Read fast-track articles.

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