Background Meningitis caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis is a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. We evaluated the performance of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) testing with the GeneXpert MTB/RIF assay versus traditional approaches for diagnosing tuberculosis meningitis (TBM). Methods Patients were adults (n = 37) presenting with suspected TBM to the Hospital Nacional Dos de Mayo, Lima, Peru, during 12 months until 1st January 2015. Each participant had a single CSF specimen that was divided into aliquots that were concurrently tested for M. tuberculosis using GeneXpert, Ziehl-Neelsen smear and culture on solid and liquid media. Drug susceptibility testing used Mycobacteria Growth Indicator Tube (MGIT 960) and the proportions method. Results 81% (30/37) of patients received a final clinical diagnosis of TBM, of whom 63% (19/30, 95% confidence intervals, CI: 44–80%) were HIV-positive. 22% (8/37, 95%CI: 9.8–38%), of patients had definite TBM. Because definite TBM was defined by positivity in any laboratory test, all laboratory tests had 100% specificity. Considering the 30 patients who had a clinical diagnosis of TBM: diagnostic sensitivity was 23% (7/30, 95%CI: 9.9–42%) for GeneXpert and was the same for all culture results combined; considerably greater than 7% (2/30, 95%CI: 0.82–22%) for microscopy; whereas all laboratory tests had poor negative predictive values (20–23%). Considering only the 8 patients with definite TBM: diagnostic sensitivity was 88% (7/8, 95%CI: 47–100%) for GeneXpert; 75% (6/8, 95%CI: 35–97%) for MGIT culture or LJ culture; 50% (4/8, 95%CI 16–84) for Ogawa culture and 25% (2/8, 95%CI: 3.2–65%) for microscopy. GeneXpert and microscopy provided same-day results, whereas culture took 20–56 days. GeneXpert provided same-day rifampicin-susceptibility results, whereas culture-based testing took 32–71 days. 38% (3/8, 95%CI: 8.5–76%) of patients with definite TBM with data had evidence of drug-resistant TB, but 73% (22/30) of all clinically diagnosed TBM (definite, probable, and possible TBM) had no drug-susceptibility results available. Conclusions Compared with traditional culture-based methods of CSF testing, GeneXpert had similar yield and faster results for both the detection of M. tuberculosis and drug-susceptibility testing. Including use of the GeneXpert has the capacity to improve the diagnosis of TBM cases.
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