Bacterial Culture Underestimates Lung Pathogen Detection and Infection Status in Cystic Fibrosis

Helen Gavillet, Lauren Hatfield, Damian Rivett, Andrew Jones, Anirban Maitra, Alexander Horsley, Christopher van der Gast*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
3 Downloads (Pure)


Microbiological surveillance of airway secretions is central to clinical care in cystic fibrosis (CF). However, the efficacy of microbiological culture, the diagnostic gold standard for pathogen detection, has been increasingly questioned. Here we compared culture with targeted quantitative PCR (QPCR) for longitudinal detection of 2 key pathogens, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus. Prospectively collected respiratory samples taken from 20 pediatric and 20 adult CF patients over a period of 3-years were analyzed. Patients were eligible if considered free of chronic Pseudomonas infection within 12-months prior to start of study. QPCR revealed high levels of infection with both pathogens not apparent from culture alone. Pseudomonas and Staphylococcus were detected by culture on at least one sampling occasion in 12 and 29 of the patients, respectively. Conversely, both pathogens were detected in all 40 patients by QPCR. Classification of infection status also significantly altered in both pediatric and adult patients, where the number of patients deemed chronically infected with Pseudomonas and Staphylococcus increased from 1 to 28 and 9 to 34, respectively. Overall, Pseudomonas and Staphylococcus infection status classification changed respectively for 36 and 27 of all patients. In no cases did molecular identification lead to a patient being in a less clinically serious infection category. Pathogen detection and infection status classification significantly increased when assessed by QPCR in comparison to culture. This could have implications for clinical care of CF patients, including accuracy of infection diagnosis, relevant and timely antibiotic selection, antimicrobial resistance development, establishment of chronic infection, and cross-infection control.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalMicrobiology spectrum
Issue number5
Early online date16 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2022
Externally publishedYes

Cite this