Etiology of pulmonary infections in human immunodeficiency virus-infected inpatients using sputum multiplex real-time polymerase chain reaction

Gary Maartens, Rulan Griesel, Felix Dube, Mark Nicol, Marc Mendelson

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BACKGROUND: There are limited data on the etiology of respiratory infections in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected patients in resource-limited settings.

METHODS: We performed quantitative multiplex real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for Pneumocystis jirovecii and common bacterial and viral respiratory pathogens on sputum samples (spontaneous or induced) from a prospective cohort study of HIV-infected inpatients with World Health Organization danger signs and cough. Mycobacterial culture was done on 2 sputum samples, blood cultures, and relevant extrapulmonary samples.

RESULTS: We enrolled 284 participants from 2 secondary-level hospitals in Cape Town, South Africa: median CD4 count was 97 cells/μL, 64% were women, and 38% were on antiretroviral therapy. One hundred forty-eight had culture-positive tuberculosis, 100 had community-acquired pneumonia (CAP), 26 had P. jirovecii pneumonia (PJP), and 64 had other diagnoses. Probable bacterial infection (>105 copies/mL) was detected in 133 participants; the prevalence was highest in those with CAP (52%). Haemophilus influenzae and Streptococcus pneumoniae were the commonest bacterial pathogens detected; atypical bacteria were uncommon. Viruses were detected in 203 participants; the prevalence was highest in those with PJP (85%). Human metapneumovirus was the commonest virus detected. Multiple coinfections were commonly detected.

CONCLUSIONS: Sputum multiplex PCR could become a useful diagnostic tool for bacterial respiratory infections in HIV-infected inpatients, but its value is limited as quantitative cutoffs have only been established for a few bacterial pathogens and validation has not been done in this patient population. We found a high prevalence of respiratory viruses, but it is unclear whether these viruses were causing infection as there are no accepted quantitative PCR cutoffs for diagnosing respiratory viral infections.


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