The Ziehl-Neelsen (ZN) stain is important in identifying organisms that are acid fast, principally Mycobacterium tuberculosis. However, decolorisation with a weaker acid concentration (for example 1% hydrochloric acid), often used in ZN staining in histology, can result in a wider variety of organisms appearing acid fast and can be a cause of misidentification. To illustrate this point, a patient is described with pulmonary nocardiosis who was misdiagnosed as having tuberculous empyema on pleural biopsy.
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