A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method for the rapid diagnosis of tuberculous meningitis (TBM) was used to study prospectively 47 cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) samples from 45 patients. Twenty CSF samples were from patients with clinically suspected TBM and another 27 samples came from patients without clinically suspected TBM. Mycobacterial DNA was detected in 15 CSF samples (14 from patients with clinically suspected TBM and 1 from a patient not suspected of having TBM). Of the PCR-positive samples, 4 were also positive for mycobacterial culture. However, 32 PCR-negative samples were all culture-negative. All samples were negative for the acid-fast bacillus by direct smear. The single PCR-positive patient in the clinically unsuspected TBM group was initially diagnosed as suffering from aseptic meningitis on the basis of his clinical features. The mycobacterial culture of his CSF specimen was also positive and a revised diagnosis of an aseptic type of TBM was made. The estimations of specificity and sensitivity in this study were 100% and 70% respectively. The results showed that using a PCR to detect mycobacterial DNA in CSF for the early diagnosis of TBM is not only a rapid but also an accurate method.
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