May 17, 2021
Plos One

Characterization of oral swab samples for diagnosis of pulmonary tuberculosis

Rachel C. Wood, Alfred Andama, Gleda Hermansky, Stephen Burkot, Lucy Asege, Mukwatamundu Job, David Katumba, Martha Nakaye, Sandra Z. Mwebe, Jerry Mulondo, Christine M. Bachman, Kevin P. Nichols, Anne-Laure M. Le Ny, Corrie Ortega, Rita N. Olson, Kris M. Weigel, Alaina M. Olson, Damian Madan, David Bell, Adithya Cattamanchi, William Worodria, Fred C. Semitala, Akos Somoskovi, Gerard A. Cangelosi, Kyle J. Minch

Oral swab analysis (OSA) has been shown to detect Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) DNA in patients with pulmonary tuberculosis (TB). In previous analyses, qPCR testing of swab samples collected from tongue dorsa was up to 93% sensitive relative to sputum GeneXpert, when 2 swabs per patient were tested. The present study modified sample collection methods to increase sample biomass and characterized the viability of bacilli present in tongue swabs. A qPCR targeting conserved bacterial ribosomal rRNA gene (rDNA) sequences was used to quantify bacterial biomass in samples. There was no detectable reduction in total bacterial rDNA signal over the course of 10 rapidly repeated tongue samplings, indicating that swabs collect only a small portion of the biomass available for testing. Copan FLOQSwabs collected ~2-fold more biomass than Puritan PurFlock swabs, the best brand used previously (p = 0.006). FLOQSwabs were therefore evaluated in patients with possible TB in Uganda. A FLOQSwab was collected from each patient upon enrollment (Day 1) and, in a subset of sputum GeneXpert Ultra-positive patients, a second swab was collected on the following day (Day 2). Swabs were tested for MTB DNA by manual IS6110-targeted qPCR. Relative to sputum GeneXpert Ultra, single-swab sensitivity was 88% (44/50) on Day 1 and 94.4% (17/18) on Day 2. Specificity was 79.2% (42/53). Among an expanded sample of Ugandan patients, 62% (87/141) had colony-forming bacilli in their tongue dorsum swab samples. These findings will help guide further development of this promising TB screening method.

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