The role of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in the diagnosis of tuberculosis in clinical practice remains to be defined: most results have been based on sputum samples. This study systematically compared the relative sensitivity and specificity of a single simplified method for different clinical samples. A wide range of clinical samples, including sputum, bronchoalveolar lavage fluid, cerebrospinal fluid, pleural fluid, gastric aspirate, pus and tissues (both fresh and paraffin-embedded) was tested. This method did not require routine DNA extraction before PCR, and consisted of an optimised single tube PCR amplification designed with different sets of time and temperature profiles. A total of 398 samples from 293 patients was studied. The sensitivity was 100% for all types of specimens, while the specificity ranged from 95% for sputum to 88% for bronchoalveolar lavage fluid and pleural fluid and to 85% for non-pulmonary specimens. This study showed that it was possible to employ a single simplified method with minor modifications for a wide range of specimens in clinical practice without loss of sensitivity and specificity.


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