Background: The diagnosis of tubercular lymphadenitis (TBLN) is challenging. This study assesses the role of diagnostic intervention with real-time PCR in clinically suspected tubercular lymphadenopathy in relation to cytology and microbiological methods. Methods: The cross-sectional study involved 214 patients, and PCR, cytology, and Ziehl-Neelsen (ZN) staining was performed on aspirates. The findings were compared with culture on Lowenstein-Jensen medium. The overall concordance of cytology and PCR, both individually and combined, was calculated. χ2 and Phi values were assessed between cytology, PCR, and culture. Results: A cytological diagnosis of tuberculosis (TB), reactive lymphoid hyperplasia, and suppurative lymphadenitis was made in 71, 112, and 6 patients, respectively. PCR and culture were positive in 40% of the cases. Among the TBLN patients, PCR showed higher positivity in necrosis and culture showed higher positivity in necrotizing granuloma. Positive ZN staining was observed in 29.6% of the TBLN cases, with an overall positivity of 11%. PCR could additionally detect 82 cases missed by ZN staining. The overall concordance rate for either diagnostic modality, i.e., PCR or cytology, was highest (75%), and for PCR alone was 74%. Phi values were observed to be 0.47 between PCR and culture. Conclusion: Real-time PCR for Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex on aspirates offers a definitive and comparable diagnosis of TBLN. Including this approach as the primary investigation in the work-up of TBLN could reduce the burden of TB.

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