A comparative study on the different staining methods and number of specimens for the detection of acid fast bacilli

Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz. 2000 Nov-Dec;95(6):855-8. doi: 10.1590/s0074-02762000000600019.


The presence of acid fast bacilli in multiple specimens was investigated comparatively with Ziehl-Neelsen (ZN) and fluorescence microscopy (FM) staining in order to determine sensitivity in detecting tuberculosis (TB). A total of 465 specimens obtained from 295 patients were analysed at Harran University Medical School Hospital between March 1998 and March 2000. The culture was employed as the reference method. Sixty-eight patients (23.1%) were diagnosed as having TB by culture. The ZN and FM staining sensitivities were 67.6% (46/68) and 85.2% (58/68) respectively. Two hundred and one patients (68.1%) submitted one specimen to the laboratory. TB positivity was detected in 42 (20.9%) of these patients by culture. The sensitivities of ZN and FM stains were found to be 61% and 83% in these patients. However, in 18 patients (6.1%) who submitted two specimens to the laboratory, the TB was positive in six of them (33.3%) and ZN and FM sensitivities were 66% and 83% respectively. When three specimens or more were collected from the patients (76 patients, 25.8%), TB positivity was determined in 20 of them (26.3%) and the sensitivities were 80% and 92% in the ZN- and FM-stained smears, respectively. Our data indicate that in the diagnosis of TB, FM has greater sensitivity than ZN. In particular, in the case of a single specimen, the diagnostic value of FM is quite significant. It is, therefore, possible to conclude that both ZN and FM staining can be used for the diagnosis of TB when there are more than two specimens. However, if only one or two specimens are available, FM staining is preferable.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / isolation & purification*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Staining and Labeling / methods*
  • Tuberculosis / diagnosis*
  • Tuberculosis / microbiology