How long should I expect Legionella urine antigen test to remain positive after diagnosis of legionnaire’s disease in my patient with pneumonia?

The urine antigen test for detection of Legionnaire’s disease (LD) can remain positive for weeks or months after initial infection. So a positive test in a patient with pneumonia may not just be suggestive of an acute infection but also the diagnosis of LD during recent weeks or months (1,2).

In a study of Legionella urine antigen detection as a function of days after onset of symptoms, 11 of 11 (100%) patients tested remained positive after day 14 (1). In the same study, 10 of 23 (43%) patients excreted antigen for 42 days or longer following initiation of therapy, with some patients remaining positive for more than 200 days!

In another study involving 61 patients with Legionella pneumophila pneumonia, 25% excreted Legionella antigen for 60 or more days (2). Longer duration of antigen excretion was significantly associated with immunosuppressed patients in whom the time to resolution of fever was > 72 h.

The long duration of excretion of Legionella antigen in urine following LD is not surprising. Pneumococcal pneumonia has also been associated with prolonged antigen excretion, some for as long as 6 months after diagnosis of pneumonia (3). It is thought that some microbial polysaccharides may be degraded very slowly or not at all by mammalian tissues which could explain their prolonged appearance in the urine long after active infection has resolved (1).

Bonus pearl: Did you know that the sensitivity of Legionella urinary antigen for LD varies from 94% for travel-associated infections to 76%-87% for community-acquired infection, and to as low as ~45% for nosocomially-acquired infections (4)?

Liked this post? Download the app on your smart phone and sign up below to catch future pearls right into your inbox, all for free!

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

References

  1. Kohler RB, Winn WC, Wheat J. Onset and duration of urinary antigen excretion in Legionnaires disease. J Clin Microbiol 1984;20:605-7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6490846/
  2. Sopena N, Sabria M, Pedro-Bolet ML, et al. Factors related to persistence of Legionella urinary antigen excretion in patients with legionnaire’s disease. Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis 2002;21:845-48. https://europepmc.org/article/med/12525918
  3. Andreo F, Prat C, Ruiz-Manzano J, et al. Persistence of Streptococcus pneumoniae urinary antigen excretion after pneumococcal pneumonia. Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis 2009;28:197-201. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18830727/
  4. Helbig JH, Uldum SA, Bernander S, et al. Clinical utility of urinary antigen detection for diagnosis of community-acquired, travel-associated, and nosocomial Legionnaire’s disease. Clin Microbiol 2003;41:838-40. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12574296/

 

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University, its affiliate academic healthcare centers, or its contributors. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!

How long should I expect Legionella urine antigen test to remain positive after diagnosis of legionnaire’s disease in my patient with pneumonia?

What changes should I consider in my diagnostic approach to hospitalized patients with community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) in light of the 2019 guidelines of the American Thoracic Society (ATS) and Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA)?

Compared to 2007,1 the 2019 ATS/IDSA guidelines2 have 2 major “Do’s” and 2 major “Dont’s” in the diagnostic approach to CAP in hospitalized patients:

  • DO order sputum and blood cultures in patients empirically treated for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or Pseudomonas aeruginosa—in addition to those with severe CAP as in 2007.  
  • DO order rapid influenza molecular assay—in preference to antigen test— when influenza viruses are circulating in community, irrespective of pneumonia severity
  • DON’T routinely order urine antigens for pneumococcal or Legionella antigens, except in severe CAP or in the presence of suggestive epidemiological factors (eg. Legionella outbreak, recent travel)
  • DON’t routinely order serum procalcitonin to determine need for initial antibacterial therapy

Patients at risk of MRSA or P. aeruginosa include those with prior infection with the same pathogens as well as those with hospitalization and treated with parenteral antibiotics—in or out of the hospital— in the last 90 days; HCAP is no longer recognized as an entity.

The definition of severe CAP is unchanged: 1 of 2 major criteria (septic shock or respiratory failure requiring mechanical ventilation) or 3 or more of the following minor criteria or findings listed below:

  • Clinical
    • Respiratory rate ≥30 breath/min
    • Hypotension requiring aggressive fluid resuscitation
    • Hypothermia (core temperature <36 ᵒC, 96.8 ᵒF)
    • Confusion/disorientation
  • Radiographic 
    • Multilobar infiltrates
  • Laboratory 
    • Leukopenia (WBC <4,000/ul)
    • Thrombocytopenia (platelets <100,000/ul)
    • BUN ≥20 mg/dl
    • Pa02/FI02 ratio ≤250

Keep in mind that these guidelines focus on adults who are not immunocompromised or had recent foreign travel and are often based on expert opinion but low or very low quality evidence due to the dearth of properly designed studies.

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that the urine Legionella antigen only tests for L. pneumophila type I, with an overall sensitivity ranging from 45% to 100%!3,4

Liked this post? Download the app on your smart phone and sign up below to catch future pearls right into your inbox, all for free!

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

References

  1. Mandell LA, Wunderink RG, Anzueto A. Infectious Disease Society of America/American Thoracic Society Consensus Guidelines on the Management guidelines on the management of community-acquired pneumonia in adults. Clin Infect Dis 2007;44:S27-72. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17278083
  2. Metlay JP, Waterer GW, Long AC, et al. Diagnosis and treatment of adults with community-acquired pneumonia. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2019;200:e45-e67. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31573350
  3. Blazquez RM, Espinosa FJ, Martinez-Toldos CM, et al. Sensitivity of urinary antigen test in relation to clinical severity in a large outbreak of Legionella pneumonia in Spain. Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis 2005;24:488-91. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15997369
  4. Marlow E, Whelan C. Legionella pneumonia and use of the Legionella urinary antigen test. J Hosp Med 2009;4:E1-E2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19301376

 

 

What changes should I consider in my diagnostic approach to hospitalized patients with community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) in light of the 2019 guidelines of the American Thoracic Society (ATS) and Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA)?