Serological and molecular detection of Bartonella henselae in specimens from patients with suspected

Cat scratch disease (CSD) is an infectious disease caused by Bartonella henselae, usually characterized by self-limiting regional lymphadenopathy and fever. Given the low clinical diagnostic sensitivity and specificity of conventional anti-B. henselae indirect immunofluorescence assays (IFAs), real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based detection of B. henselae is now being proposed as a more sensitive tool to diagnose CSD. Thus, here we have assessed the efficacy of real-time PCR in detecting B. henselae in different specimens from patients with suspected CSD and compared it to that of IFA. From March 2011 to May 2016, at the Microbiology and Virology Unit, Azienda Ospedaliera Universitaria Città della Salute e della Scienza di Torino, Turin, Italy, 115 clinical specimens (56 aspirated pus, 39 fresh lymph node biopsies, and 20 whole blood samples) and 99 sera from 115 patients with suspected CSD (62 females and 53 males between the ages of 3 months and 68 years) were analyzed by both real-time PCR, used in a qualitative way, and IFA (IgM and IgG) for the presence of B. henselae. For 16 patients, serological results were not available due to a clinical decision not to request the test. B. henselae DNA positivity was detected by realtime PCR in 37.39% of patients, while 62.61% of them were negative. Thus, patients were divided into two groups: real-time PCR+ (n = 43) and real-time PCR- (n = 72). Real-time PCR screening of whole blood, biopsies, and aspirated pus revealed B. henselae positivity in 40%, 38.46%, and 35.71% of patients, respectively. When we analyzed samples by IFA, we found the presence of B. henselae in 28 out of 99 (28.28%) patients, of which 11 (11.11%) belonged to the real-time PCR+ group and 17 (17.17%) to the real-time PCR- group. Among the 71 seronegative subjects, 16 (16.16%) were found positive for B. henselae by real-time PCR. Thus, by combining the results of both assays, we were able to increase the percentage of B. henselae positive specimens from 27.27% (real-time PCR) or 28.28% (IFA) to 44.44% (real-time PCR+IFA). Altogether, these findings indicate that the early detection of B. henselae in patients with suspicious CSD through combined real-time PCR and serological analyses can lead to a more accurate diagnosis of CSD, thereby allowing prompt and appropriate disease management.

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