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Background: Of all hospitalised community-acquired pneumonias (CAPs) only a few are known to be caused by Chlamydia psittaci. Most likely the reported incidence, ranging from of 0% to 2.1%, is an underestimation of the real incidence, since detection of psittacosis is frequently not incorporated in the routine microbiological diagnostics in CAP or serological methods are used.
Methods: C. psittaci real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was routinely performed on the sputum of 147 patients hospitalised with CAP, who participated in a clinical trial conducted in two Dutch hospitals. In 119/147 patients the paired complement fixation test (CFT) was also performed for the presence of Chlamydia antibodies. Positive CFTs were investigated by micro- Immunofluorescence for psittacosis specificity. Case criteria for psittacosis were a positive PCR or a fourfold rise of antibody titre in CFT confirmed by micro- Immunofluorescence. Furthermore, we searched for parameters that could discriminate psittacosis from CAPs with other aetiology.
Results: 7/147 (4.8%) patients were diagnosed with psittacosis: six with PCR and one patient with a negative PCR, but with CFT confirmed by micro- Immunofluorescence. Psittacosis patients had had a higher temperature (median 39.6 vs. 38.2 °C;) but lower white blood cell count (median 7.4 vs. 13.7 x 109/l) on admission compared with other CAP patients.
Conclusion: In this study, C. psittaci as CAP-causing pathogen was much higher than previously reported. To detect psittacosis, PCR was performed on all CAP patients for whom a sputum sample was available. For clinical use, PCR is a fast method and sputum availability allows genotyping; additional serology can optimise epidemiological investigations.