Washington: Easy-to-obtain oral swab samples can significantly improve diagnosis of tuberculosis (TB), new research has found.
Detecting the disease with a simple oral swab "could be a game changer for TB control because it could make diagnosis cheaper and easier," said Gerard Cangelosi, professor at the University of Washington.
Diagnosing TB conventionally involves collecting and testing a person's sputum - thick, gluey mucus coughed up from the lungs.
Working with sputum samples is challenging due to the material's "horribly gloppy" nature, as Cangelosi called it.
Sputum can hide pathogens from pathologists because it is difficult to dislodge bacteria from within the mucus' milieu, the study noted.
In search of a viable alternative to sputum samples, the scientists swabbed the mouths of 20 healthy individuals and 20 TB patients.
Samples from patients with confirmed TB were taken in a clinic in South Africa. The control samples were taken from healthy individuals in Washington state.
Lisa Jones-Engel , a research scientist at the University of Washington National Primate Research Center, advised the study team in applying the oral-swab method to human disease.
The researchers detected TB in oral swabs taken from 18 of the 20 confirmed patients. None of the samples from healthy volunteers tested positive.
Previous efforts to test for TB in materials other than sputum, such as blood, urine or exhaled breath, have been limited by much lower accuracy, with detection rates typically below 50 percent, the study featured in the journal Scientific Reports, pointed out.