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Is It Possible to Differentiate Pneumocystis jirovecii Pneumonia and Colonization in the Immunocompromised Patients with Pneumonia

Keywords: Quantitative real time PCR; Pneumocystis jirovecii; pneumonia; colonization; bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL); oropharyngeal washes (OW)


Respiratory sample staining is a standard tool used to diagnose Pneumocystis jirovecii pneumonia (PjP). Although molecular tests are more sensitive, their interpretation can be difficult due to the potential of colonization. We aimed to validate a Pneumocystis jirovecii (Pj) real-time PCR (qPCR) assay in bronchoscopic bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) and oropharyngeal washes (OW). We included 158 immunosuppressed patients with pneumonia, 35 lung cancer patients who underwent BAL, and 20 healthy individuals. We used a SYBR green qPCR assay to look for a 103 bp fragment of the Pj mtLSU rRNA gene in BAL and OW. We calculated the qPCR cut-off as well as the analytical and diagnostic characteristics. The qPCR was positive in 67.8% of BAL samples from the immunocompromised patients. The established cut-off for discriminating between disease and colonization was Ct 24.53 for BAL samples. In the immunosuppressed group, qPCR detected all 25 microscopy-positive PjP cases, plus three additional cases. Pj colonization in the immunocompromised group was 66.2%, while in the cancer group, colonization rates were 48%. qPCR was ineffective at diagnosing PjP in the OW samples. This new qPCR allowed for reliable diagnosis of PjP, and differentiation between PjP disease and colonization in BAL of immunocompromised patients with pneumonia.

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