The diagnosis of some infectious diseases requires their identification in tissue specimens. As institutions adopt digital pathology for primary diagnosis, the limits of microorganism detection from digital images must be delineated.


To assess the reliability of microorganism detection from digitized images of histochemical and immunohistochemical stains commonly used in pathology.


Original glass slides from 620 surgical pathology cases evaluated for the presence of infectious microorganisms were digitized. Immunohistochemical stains included those for herpes simplex virus (n = 100), cytomegalovirus (n = 100), Helicobacter pylori (n = 100), and spirochetes (n = 80). Histochemical stains included mucicarmine for Cryptococcus spp (n = 20), Grocott methenamine silver for fungi (n = 100), Giemsa for H pylori (n = 100), and Ziehl-Neelsen for acid-fast bacilli (n = 20). The original diagnosis based on the glass slides was regarded as the reference standard. Six pathologists reviewed the digital images.


Digital review was generally associated with high (ie, ≥90%) specificity and positive predictive value owing to a low percentage of false positive reads, whereas a high percentage of false negatives contributed to low sensitivity and negative predictive value for many stains. Fleiss κ showed substantial interobserver agreement in the interpretation of Grocott methenamine silver and immunostains for herpes simplex virus, H pylori, and cytomegalovirus; moderate agreement for spirochete, Ziehl-Neelsen, and mucicarmine; and poor agreement for Giemsa.


Digital immunohistochemistry generally outperforms histochemical stains for microorganism detection. Digital interpretation of Ziehl-Neelsen and mucicarmine stains is associated with low scores for interrater reliability, accuracy, sensitivity, and negative predictive value such that it should not substitute for conventional review of glass slides.

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Competing Interests

The authors have no relevant financial interest in the products or companies described in this article.

Author notes

Presented in part at the United States and Canadian Academy of Pathology annual meeting on March 22, 2022, Los Angeles, California.