Optimizing outpatient serial sputum colony counting for studies of tuberculosis treatment in resource-poor settings

Derek J Sloan, Elizabeth L Corbett, Anthony E Butterworth, Henry C Mwandumba, Saye H Khoo, Aaron Mdolo, Doris Shani, Mercy Kamdolozi, Jenny Allen, Denis A Mitchison, David J Coleman, Geraint R Davies

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14 Citations (Scopus)


Serial Sputum Colony Counting (SSCC) is an important technique in clinical trials of new treatments for tuberculosis (TB). Quantitative cultures on selective Middlebrook agar are used to calculate the rate of bacillary elimination from sputum collected from patients at different time points during the first 2 months of therapy. However, the procedure can be complicated by high sample contamination rates. This study, conducted in a resource-poor setting in Malawi, assessed the ability of different antifungal drugs in selective agar to reduce contamination. Overall, 229 samples were studied and 15% to 27% were contaminated. Fungal organisms were particularly implicated, and samples collected later in treatment were at particular risk (P < 0.001). Amphotericin B (AmB) is the standard antifungal drug used on SSCC plates at a concentration of 10 mg/ml. On selective Middlebrook 7H10 plates, AmB at 30 mg/ml reduced sample contamination by 17% compared with AmB at 10 mg/ml. The relative risk of contamination using AmB at 10 mg/ml was 1.79 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.25 to 3.55). On Middlebrook 7H11 plates, a combination of AmB at 10 mg/ml and carbendazim at 50 mg/ml was associated with 10% less contamination than AmB at 30 mg/ml. The relative risk of contamination with AmB at 30 mg/ml was 1.79 (95% CI, 1.01 to 3.17). Improved antifungal activity was accompanied by a small reduction in bacillary counts, but this did not affect modeling of bacillary elimination. In conclusion, a combination of AmB and carbendazim optimized the antifungal activity of selective media for growth of TB. We recommend this method to reduce contamination rates and improve SSCC studies in African countries where the burden of TB is highest.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2315-20
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Clinical Microbiology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2012


  • Adult
  • Antifungal Agents
  • Antitubercular Agents
  • Bacterial Load
  • Cohort Studies
  • Culture Media
  • Developing Countries
  • Drug Monitoring
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Malawi
  • Male
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis
  • Outpatients
  • Sputum
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary


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