Clinical evaluation of tuberculosis viability microscopy for assessing treatment response

Clin Infect Dis. 2015 Apr 15;60(8):1186-95. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciu1153. Epub 2014 Dec 23.


Background: It is difficult to determine whether early tuberculosis treatment is effective in reducing the infectiousness of patients' sputum, because culture takes weeks and conventional acid-fast sputum microscopy and molecular tests cannot differentiate live from dead tuberculosis.

Methods: To assess treatment response, sputum samples (n=124) from unselected patients (n=35) with sputum microscopy-positive tuberculosis were tested pretreatment and after 3, 6, and 9 days of empiric first-line therapy. Tuberculosis quantitative viability microscopy with fluorescein diacetate, quantitative culture, and acid-fast auramine microscopy were all performed in triplicate.

Results: Tuberculosis quantitative viability microscopy predicted quantitative culture results such that 76% of results agreed within ±1 logarithm (rS=0.85; P<.0001). In 31 patients with non-multidrug-resistant (MDR) tuberculosis, viability and quantitative culture results approximately halved (both 0.27 log reduction, P<.001) daily. For patients with non-MDR tuberculosis and available data, by treatment day 9 there was a >10-fold reduction in viability in 100% (24/24) of cases and quantitative culture in 95% (19/20) of cases. Four other patients subsequently found to have MDR tuberculosis had no significant changes in viability (P=.4) or quantitative culture (P=.6) results during early treatment. The change in viability and quantitative culture results during early treatment differed significantly between patients with non-MDR tuberculosis and those with MDR tuberculosis (both P<.001). Acid-fast microscopy results changed little during early treatment, and this change was similar for non-MDR tuberculosis vs MDR tuberculosis (P=.6).

Conclusions: Tuberculosis quantitative viability microscopy is a simple test that within 1 hour predicted quantitative culture results that became available weeks later, rapidly indicating whether patients were responding to tuberculosis therapy.

Keywords: early bactericidal activity; fluorescein diacetate; multidrug-resistant tuberculosis; viability stain; vital stain tuberculosis.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antitubercular Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Bacteriological Techniques / methods*
  • Drug Monitoring / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microbial Viability / drug effects*
  • Microscopy / methods*
  • Sputum / microbiology
  • Time Factors
  • Tuberculosis / drug therapy*
  • Young Adult


  • Antitubercular Agents