My patient with erythema multiforme has tested positive for Mycoplasma pneumoniae IgM antibody. Does this mean she has an acute M. pneumonia infection as the cause of her acute illness?

Not necessarily! Although detection of IgM in the serum of patients has proven valuable in diagnosing many infections during their early phase, particularly before IgG is detected, less well known is that false-positive IgM results are not uncommon. 1

More specific to M. pneumoniae IgM, false-positive results have been reported in 10-80% of patients without a clinical diagnosis of acute M. pneumoniae infection 2-4 and 3-15% of blood donors. 4

False-positive IgM results may also occur when testing for other infectious agents, such as the agent of Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi), arboviruses (eg, Zika virus), and herpes simplex, Epstein-Barr, cytomegalovirus, hepatitis A and measles viruses. 1,5  

Reports of false positive IgM results include a patient with congestive heart failure and mildly elevated liver enzymes who had a false-positive hepatitis IgM which led to unnecessary public health investigation and exclusion from an adult day care center. 1 Another patient with sulfa rash had a false-positive measles IgM antibody resulting in callback of >100 patients and healthcare providers for testing!5

There are many potential mechanisms for false-positive IgM results, including polyclonal B cell activation, “vigorous immune response”, cross-reactive antibodies, autoimmune disease, subclinical reactivation of latent viruses, influenza vaccination, overreading weakly reactive results, and persistence of antibodies long after the resolution of the acute disease. 1,2

In our patient, a significant rise in M. pneumoniae IgG between acute and convalescent samples several weeks apart may be more helpful in diagnosing an acute infection accounting for her erythema multiforme.

 

References

  1. Landry ML. Immunoglobulin M for acute infection: true or false? Clin Vac Immunol 2016;23:540-5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4933779/
  2. Csango PA, Pedersen JE, Hess RD. Comparison of four Mycoplasma pneumoniae IgM-, IgG- and IgA-specific enzyme immunoassays in blood donors and patients. Clin Micro Infect 2004;10:1089-1104. https://www.clinicalmicrobiologyandinfection.com/article/S1198-743X(14)63853-2/pdf
  3. Thacker WL, Talkington DF. Analysis of complement fixation and commercial enzyme immunoassays for detection of antibodies to Mycoplasma pneumoniae in human serum. Clin Diag Lab Immunol 2000;7:778-80. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC95955/
  4. Ryuta U, Juri O, Inoue Y, et al. Rapid detection of Mycoplasma pneumoniae IgM antibodies using immunoCard Mycoplasma kit compared with complement fixation (CF) tests and clinical application. European Respiratory Journal 2012; 40: P 2466 (Abstract). https://erj.ersjournals.com/content/40/Suppl_56/P2466 
  5. Woods CR. False-positive results for immunoglobulin M serologic results: explanations and examples. J Ped Infect Dis Soc 2013;2:87-90. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26619450

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My patient with erythema multiforme has tested positive for Mycoplasma pneumoniae IgM antibody. Does this mean she has an acute M. pneumonia infection as the cause of her acute illness?

How well does procalcitonin distinguish bacterial from viral causes of community-acquired pneumonia in hospitalized patients?

Not extremely well! Although a recent multicenter prospective study in adult hospitalized patients reported that the median procalcitonin (PCT) concentration was significantly lower for community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) caused by viral pathogens ( 0.09 u/ml vs atypical bacteria [0.2 ug/ml] and typical bacteria [2.5 ug/ml]),  PCT was <0.1 ug/ml and <0.25 ug/ml  in 12.4% and 23.1% of typical bacterial cases, respectively1

This means that we could potentially miss about a quarter of CAP cases due to typical bacterial causes if we use the <0.25 ug/ml threshold (<0.20 is ug/ml has been used to exclude sepsis2). For these reasons and based on the results from another study3, no threshold for PCT can reliably distinguish bacterial from viral etiologies of CAP4.  Clinical context is essential in interpreting PCT levels! Also go to a related pearl on this site5.

Can PCT distinguish Legionella from other atypical bacterial causes of CAP (eg, caused by Mycoplasma or Chlamydophila)? The answer is “maybe”! Legionella was associated with higher PCT levels compared to  Mycoplasma and Chlamydophila in one study1, but not in another3.

References

  1. Self WH, Balk RA, Grijalva CG, et al. Procalcitonin as a marker of etiology in adults hospitalized with community-acquired pneumonia. Clin Infect Dis 2017;65:183-90. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28407054
  2. Meisner M. Update on procalcitonin measurements. Ann Lab Med 2014;34:263-73.
  3. Krüger S, Ewig S, Papassotiriou J, et al. Inflammatory parameters predict etiologic patterns but do not allow for individual prediction of etiology in patients with CAP-Results from the German competence network CAPNETZ. Resp Res 2009;10:65. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2714042/pdf/1465-9921-10-65.pdf
  4. Bergin SP, Tsalik EL. Procalcitonin: the right answer but to which question? Clin Infect Dis 2017; 65:191-93. https://academic.oup.com/cid/article-abstract/65/2/191/3605416/Procalcitonin-The-Right-Answer-but-to-Which?redirectedFrom=fulltext
  5. https://pearls4peers.com/2017/07/01/should-i-order-serum-procalcitonin-on-my-patient-with-suspected-infection    
How well does procalcitonin distinguish bacterial from viral causes of community-acquired pneumonia in hospitalized patients?

In hospitalized patients with community-acquired pneumonia (CAP), has empiric treatment with beta-lactam plus macrolide or a quinolone been shown to be superior to beta-lactam monotherapy ?

Actually no!

In fact, a 2015 study of CAP from Netherlands, published in New England Journal of Medicine, demonstrated that empiric treatment with beta-lactam monotherapy was not inferior to strategies using a beta-lactam-macrolide combination or fluoroquinolone monotherapy with regard to 90-day mortality, or length of hospital stay (1). To help exclude Legionella pneumonia (often accounting for <5% of CAP[2]), urine Legionella antigen was routinely performed in this study.

So once Legionella has been reasonably excluded, unless suspicion for other atypical causes of CAP (i.e. Mycoplasma pneumoniae or Chlamydophila pneumoniae) remains high, empiric monotherapy with a beta-lactam (e.g. ceftriaxone) may be just as effective in many cases of CAP.

References

1. Postma DF1, van Werkhoven CH, van Elden LJ, et al. CAP-START Study Group Antibiotic treatment strategies for community-acquired pneumonia in adults. N Engl J Med. 2015;372:1312-23.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25830421  

2. von Baum H, Ewig S, Marre R, et al. Competence Network for Community Acquired Pneumonia Study Group. Community-acquired Legionella pneumonia: new insights from the German competence network for community acquired pneumonia. Clin Infect Dis 2008;46:1356. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18419436

Contributed by Jessica A. Hennessey, MD, PhD, Mass General Hospital, Boston, MA

In hospitalized patients with community-acquired pneumonia (CAP), has empiric treatment with beta-lactam plus macrolide or a quinolone been shown to be superior to beta-lactam monotherapy ?