Background: Tuberculous pleural effusion occurs in 30% of patients with tuberculosis (TB). Rapid diagnosis of a tuberculous pleural effusion would greatly facilitate the management of many patients. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) has been used to detect Mycobacterium tuberculosis in pleural fluid with highly variable sensitivity.
Objective: To improve our laboratory diagnosis of tuberculous pleural effusion.
Methods: We applied PCR to detect DNA specific for M tuberculosis in 33 of the studied pleural biopsy specimens using an IS986-based primer that was specific for mycobacterium complex, and compared it to the results of pleural fluid and biopsy cultures performed on either Lowenstein-Jensen (LJ) medium or BACTEC 12B liquid medium (Becton Dickinson Microbiology Systems; Cockeysville, MD), Ziehl-Neelsen (ZN) staining, and histopathology in 45 patients with pleural effusion.
Results: Of the 45 patients with pleural effusion who were studied, 26 patients received diagnoses of tuberculous pleural effusion that had been confirmed by either culture and or histopathology, 10 patients received diagnoses of exudative effusion due to causes other than TB, and 9 patients received diagnoses of transudative effusion. Histopathology of the pleural biopsy specimen had a sensitivity of 53.8%. The sensitivity of the ZN staining of pleural fluid and biopsy specimens was 0.0% and 3.8%, respectively. The sensitivity of the culture on both BACTEC 12B liquid medium and LJ medium was higher in pleural biopsy specimens (92.3%) than in pleural fluid specimens (15.4%; p > 0.001). The improvements of the BACTEC culture system improved and shortened the detection time of M tuberculosis in pleural biopsy specimens. PCR of pleural biopsy specimens had 90% sensitivity and 100% specificity. The positive predictive value and the negative predictive value for pleural biopsy specimen cultures were 100% and 90.5% vs 100% and 86.7% for pleural biopsy specimen PCRs.
Conclusion: The overall accuracy of PCR of pleural biopsy was similar to the results of pleural biopsy culture, however, PCR of the pleural biopsy was much faster in reaching diagnosis. PCR of pleural biopsy is a useful method when used in combination with the BACTEC culture system and histopathologic examination of pleural biopsy to reach a rapid diagnosis of tuberculous pleural effusion.