Use of Nucleic Acid Amplification Tests in Tuberculosis Patients in California, 2010–2013

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Nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) have been used as a diagnostic tool for tuberculosis (TB) in the United States for many years. We sought to assess NAAT use in TB patients in California during a period of time when NAAT availability increased throughout the world.


We conducted a retrospective review of surveillance data from 6051 patients with culture-confirmed pulmonary TB who were reported to the California TB registry during 2010–2013.


Only 2336 of 6051 (39%) TB patients had a NAAT for diagnosis before culture results. Although 90% (N = 2101) with NAAT had positive test results, 9% (N = 217) had falsely negative NAAT results, and 0.8% (N = 18) had indeterminate NAAT results. The median time from specimen collection to TB treatment initiation was shorter when NAAT was used (3 vs 14 days, P < .0001), and patients with a positive NAAT result initiated treatment earlier than patients with a falsely negative result (1 vs 11 days from NAAT report, P < .0001). We confirmed the increased sensitivity of NAAT compared with acid-fast bacilli (AFB) smear microscopy in our study population; 92 of 145 AFB smear-negative patients had positive NAATs. Median time from specimen collection to NAAT result report differed by health jurisdiction, from 1 to 11 working days.


Increased use of NAATs in diagnosis of pulmonary TB could decrease the time-to-treatment initiation and consequently decrease transmission. However, differential use and access to NAAT may prevent full realization of NAAT benefits in California.

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