Machine-assisted interpretation of auramine stains substantially increases through-put and sensitivity of microscopic tuberculosis diagnosis.
Of all bacterial infectious diseases, infection by Mycobacterium tuberculosis poses one of the highest morbidity and mortality burdens on humans throughout the world. Due to its speed and cost-efficiency, manual microscopy of auramine-stained sputum smears remains a crucial first-line detection method. However, it puts considerable workload on laboratory staff and suffers from a limited sensitivity. Here we validate a scanning and analysis system that combines fully-automated microscopy with deep-learning based image analysis. After automated scanning, the system summarizes diagnosis-relevant image information and presents it to the microbiologist in order to assist diagnosis. We tested the benefit of the automated scanning and analysis system using 531 slides from routine workflow, of which 56 were from culture positive specimen. Assistance by the scanning and analysis system allowed for a higher sensitivity (40/56 positive slides detected) than manual microscopy (34/56 positive slides detected), while greatly reducing manual slide-analysis time from a recommended 5-15 min to around 10 s per slide on average.