A total of 2800 sputum samples referred for mycobacterial investigation was examined by both continuous automated mycobacterial liquid culture (CAMLiC) and conventional Loewenstein-Jensen culture (LJC). The CAMLiC system was more sensitive than LJC, detecting 188 (98.4%) of 191 of all mycobacteria found by one or both methods compared to 150–162 (78.5–84.8%) found by LJC (the range for LJC takes into account all potential ‘missed positives’ due to contamination). Figures for complex (MTBC) organisms specifically were 133 (98.4%) of 135 for CAMLiC and 115–122 (85.2–90.4%) for LJC. Detectable growth of MTBC organisms in CAMLiC occurred at a mean of 13.4 days after inoculation (range 3–32; SD 6.49; mode 8 days); 65.4% of such isolates were detected within 14 days and 87.2% within 21 days. In 73 instances the MTBC status of the isolate was defined by gene probe on the day of growth detection. Sufficient biomass for valid gene probe assay was always present. The speed, sensitivity and labour-sparing technology (no manual intervention is necessary before identification or discard) of CAMLiC make it possible for many laboratories to approach the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) standard for culture and identification in mycobacteriology without resort to direct DNA detection techniques and at a much lower cost.


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