Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California


UC San Francisco Previously Published Works bannerUCSF

High Mycobacterium tuberculosis Bacillary Loads Detected by Tuberculosis Molecular Bacterial Load Assay in Patient Stool: a Potential Alternative for Nonsputum Diagnosis and Treatment Response Monitoring of Tuberculosis


Not all patients produce sputum, yet most available TB tests use sputum. We investigated the utility of a novel RNA-based quantitative test, the tuberculosis molecular bacterial load assay (TB-MBLA), for the detection and quantification of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in stool. Stools from 100 adult individuals were treated with OMNIgene-sputum reagent and tested using Xpert MTB/RIF ultra (Xpert ultra), auramine O smear microscopy (smear), mycobacterial growth indicator tube (MGIT), and Lowenstein-Jensen (LJ) cultures. The remaining portions were frozen at -20°C and later tested by TB-MBLA. MGIT sputum culture was used as a TB confirmatory test and reference for stool tests. Sixty-one of 100 participants were already confirmed TB positive by MGIT sputum culture, 20 (33%) of whom were HIV coinfected. TB-MBLA detected M. tuberculosis in 57/100 stool samples, including 49 already confirmed for TB. The mean bacterial load measured by stool TB-MBLA was 5.67 ± 1.7 log10 estimated CFU (eCFU) per mL in HIV-coinfected participants, which was higher than the 4.83 ± 1.59 log10 eCFU per mL among the HIV-negative participants (P = 0.04). The sensitivities (95% confidence intervals [CI]) of stool assays were 80% (68 to 89) and 90% (79 to 98) for TB-MBLA and Xpert ultra, which were both higher than the 44% (32 to 58), 64% (51 to 76), and 62% (45 to 77) for smear, MGIT, and Lowenstein-Jensen (LJ) stool cultures, respectively. The specificity (95% CI) of stool assays was highest for smear, at 97% (87 to 100), followed by Xpert ultra at 91% (76 to 98), TB-MBLA at 79% (63 to 90), LJ at 80% (64 to 91), and MGIT at 62% (45 to 77). Twenty-six percent of MGIT and 21% of LJ stool cultures were indeterminate due to contamination. Detection and quantification of viable M. tuberculosis bacilli in stool raises its utility as an alternative to sputum as a sample type for TB diagnosis. IMPORTANCE This paper highlights the value of stool as a sample type for diagnosis of tuberculosis. While other studies have used DNA-based assays like the Xpert MTB/RIF and culture to detect Mycobacterium tuberculosis in stool, this is the first study that has applied TB-MBLA, an RNA-based assay, to quantify TB bacteria in stool. The high microbial density and diversity in stool compromises the specificity and sensitivity of culture-based tests due to overgrowth of non-M. tuberculosis flora. Consequently, TB-MBLA becomes the most sensitive and specific test for the detection and quantification of viable TB bacteria in stool. Most crucially, this study raises the possibility of a nonsputum alternative sample type for diagnosis of TB among people who have difficulty in producing sputum.

Many UC-authored scholarly publications are freely available on this site because of the UC's open access policies. Let us know how this access is important for you.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View