Patients and Methods
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In the Hema e-Chart Registry every patient admitted to 26 Italian Haematology Units with a new diagnosis of haematological malignancy and who was a candidate for chemotherapy was consecutively registered between March 2007 and March 2009. Data were introduced prospectively into electronic case report forms as previously reported [7–10].
The Hema e-Chart Registry was approved by the Ethics Committee of each participating centre. For each febrile episode baseline characteristics were collected and data were updated every 3 days. The diagnostic work-up was similar among all participating centres and included: cultures from blood and from other sites such as nasal, pharyngeal and rectal swabs, serological markers for invasive fungal disease, and chest computed tomography scan within 4–7 days of fever. Additional tests, such as bronchoalveolar lavage, sinus or brain computed tomography scan, abdominal ultrasound, skin biopsy or fundoscopy, were performed according to clinical signs and symptoms. At the end of the fever episode the investigator specified a diagnosis selecting from among these possibilities: fever of unknown origin; bacterial, fungal or viral fever; fever due to non-infectious causes. All IFI were then centrally reviewed by the scientific Advisory Board and classified according to European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer/Mycoses Study Group (EORTC/MSG) criteria . Failure to respond was defined as progressive or unchanged clinical or radiological parameters compared with the baseline.
Overall mortality included all deaths that occurred within 12 weeks after the start of antifungal therapy. Attributable mortality was considered as death in a patient with documented radiological, microbiological or histological findings suggestive of active fungal infection with no response to treatment and if other potential causes of death could be excluded by the physician responsible for the patient.
Data were analysed by the usual descriptive techniques. Categorical variables were studied by Pearson’s chi-squared test, or by Fisher’s exact test, if needed. Survivorships were analysed using the Kaplan–Meier product limit method followed by a log-rank test in the case of categorical variables, or by a Cox regression in the case of continuous or ordinal variables. Statistical significance was assumed for p <0.05.
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The collection of data from the Hema e-Chart Registry allows us to confirm prospectively our previously published retrospective data [1,4] and also to highlight some observations regarding the current clinical practice in the management of fungal infections by haematologists. As the majority of findings regarding mycoses came from studies of selected HSCT patients, they may not be applicable to patients with leukaemia or lymphoma who did not undergo HSCT and had different host characteristics. Our study confirms some well-known epidemiological data. At the onset of mycosis the majority of patients were severely neutropenic, showing that neutropenia continues to be an important risk factor for fungal disease in haematological cancers. Mould infection is a persistent problem in treating haematological patients, above all in acute leukaemia. In fact, in our population >80% of IFI were diagnosed in acute myeloid leukaemia patients, confirming that these patients are correctly defined as at ‘high risk’ for mycosis. In the other haematological malignancies mould infections were more sporadic. The main site of mould disease remains the lung (>90% of the patients), whereas disseminated mould disease was quite a rare event (8%), probably because empirical antifungal therapy and early diagnostic work-up usually scheduled by the Registry participating centres  avoided a disastrous dissemination. The diagnosis of proven mould infection represented a difficult problem also in this prospective survey. Among the 124 patients with suspected aspergillosis, infection was proven in only 13.7% of cases and was considered ‘probable’ according to EORTC criteria in a further 28.2% of cases. In these patients the diagnosis of aspergillosis relied on the detection of GM antigenemia in over 75% of cases (27/35 patients), showing that GM antigenemia is by far the most important test for obtaining a microbiological criterion for diagnosis in routine clinical practice.
Of note, our data further show that the type of antifungal prophylaxis given was correlated with the level of IFI diagnostic evidence. In fact we obtained a GM test positivity in a significantly lower proportion of proven/probable mould infections when mould-active prophylaxis like itraconazole was used. These data indirectly confirm that the positivity of GM antigen could also depend on the administration of systemic antifungal agents effective against Aspergillus such as itraconazole or posaconazole currently used in prophylaxis, as previously published by Marr et al. . Given the key diagnostic importance of GM antigenemia for the identification of probable IFI, as shown also in this study, a reduced sensitivity of GM antigenemia in patients undergoing mould-active prophylaxis may cause an underdiagnosis of cases of invasive aspergillosis, by classifying them as merely possible IFI, potentially leading to insufficient antifungal treatment.
Although cultures were difficult to grow, the rare moulds diagnosed in our population (Fusarium and Acremonium from blood, Rhizopus from bronchoalveolar lavage) were actually identified by cultures, underlining the importance of cultivating every probable fungal material to achieve a diagnosis of species, which can respond differently to various antifungal agents. As in our previous studies [1,13], rare moulds continued to be rare, constituting only 2% of the entire group of mycoses; instead mould spp. were a frequent diagnosis, probably because of the histological difficulty of distinguishing the characteristics of hyphae between Aspergillus and Mucor.
Yeasts represented 15.6% of our mycoses, but they were the largest group of proven infections (57%) (23 yeasts versus 17 moulds) thanks to the possibility of isolating and cultivating them from blood. Yeasts remain a persistent problem in patients with acute leukaemia. Although azole prophylaxis seemed to perform better against yeasts than against moulds, because the majority of yeast infections occurred in patients not receiving prophylaxis, 30% of yeast infections occurred despite prophylaxis, in three cases as the result of resistance of C. glabrata to azoles.
Response to first-line antifungal therapy was better in mould than in yeast infections; in particular the favourable therapeutic response in the mould infections was similar using various antifungal agents (Table 1); this result differs from that reported in a recent study  regarding invasive aspergillosis in haematological malignancies and HSCT recipients, in which the novel anti-mould azoles voriconazole and posaconazole seem to confer a significant advantage, either as primary or salvage therapy, over the lipid amphotericin-containing regimens. However, in that population two characteristics may be taken into consideration: the first being that the patients were retrospectively included between June 1993 and June 2008, a long period during which the new anti-mould azoles and caspofungin were not always available; the second that the population included also allogeneic transplant recipients, in which response to therapy and mortality seem until now worse than in non-transplanted haematological patients .
A third of the patients responded to a second-line therapy in both types of mycoses, irrespective of which antifungal drug was administered. In haematological malignancies the Italian SEIFEM experience has shown a progressive improvement of results in the last decade [1,4] both regarding the response to antifungal therapy and the mortality due to moulds. In yeast infections attributable mortality was comparable to that reported in the literature and in our retrospective study , being similar in both haematological and intensive-care unit patients [16,17], and it has remained constant over the years. On the contrary, also in this prospective study, attributable mortality for aspergillosis seemed to be further decreasing (17.3%) confirming the results of our more recent retrospective study regarding aspergillosis in acute myeloid leukaemia, performed between 2004 and 2007 , in which attributable mortality was reduced compared with the previous study performed between 1999 and 2003 (27% versus 39%) . In our population statistical studies showed that the diagnosis of mould had a more favourable trend for survival than the diagnosis of yeast (Fig. 1).
Decreasing mortality in aspergillosis was recently reported also in a French single institution study ; probably patients treated in more recent years may have had better outcomes because of new developments in diagnosis and early treatment with new antifungal drugs . On the contrary, diagnosis of yeast has remained difficult until now, based mainly on blood cultures, which are positive in only half of patients. This possible delay of diagnosis could translate into a delay also in therapy administration and may explain the reduced efficacy of antifungal treatment against yeasts.
In summary, this prospective study confirmed that patients with acute leukaemia were the most frequent candidates for fungal infections, particularly moulds, more rarely yeast infections also in patients receiving prophylaxis. In current clinical practice diagnosis was obtained mainly by GM antigen and its positivity increased in the absence of systemic mould-active antifungal prophylaxis, which may therefore significantly modify the sensitivity of the diagnostic criteria of probable IFI. In our population no particular risk factors for mortality were identified except age, but a trend was present in favour of higher mortality from yeast infections compared with mould infections. Finally, also this more recent prospective observational study in non-transplanted haematological patients, like our previous retrospective studies, confirmed that mortality due to fungal infections, in particular due to moulds, seems to have fallen over recent years.