• Legionnaires’ disease;
  • Legionella;
  • nested primers;
  • polymerase chain reaction (PCR)

Objective: Because presently used methods for diagnosis of Legionella pneumonia lack sufficient sensitivity and sometimes specificity and rapidity, the detection of Legionella spp. by amplification of nucleic acids might be valuable. However, performing polymerase chain reaction (PCR) on clinical samples such as sputum is difficult because of the presence of extraneous DNA and inhibitors of the reaction. An attempt to circumvent these problems was made.

Method: A nested PCR method was devised using primers from the mip gene of Legionella pneumophila. This PCR was tested on pure cultures of legionellae and clinical isolates of other bacteria. Clinical samples (bronchoalveolar lavage fluid, bronchial aspirate and sputum) from patients who suffered from legionellosis and samples from patients who suffered from other causes of pneumonia were also tested.

Results: The PCR was specific for L. pneumophila and no non-Legionella bacteria reacted. Ten to 50 colony forming units of Legionella in the sample could be detected. Twenty-two of 25 clinical samples were positive among patients suffering from pneumonia proven to be due to L. pneumophila serogroups 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Two of the three negative samples were from patients who had been treated with adequate therapy for at least 2 days and were culture negative. However, nine other culture-negative samples were PCR positive, of which seven came from patients who had been treated for 3–7 days. All pneumonia patients in the control group proved negative in PCR. A commercial kit for DNA preparation from clinical samples, based on absorption of nucleic acids to silica gel, was superior to the traditional phenol/chloroform extraction and increased the rapidity, simplicity and sensitivity of the procedure.

Conclusions: A nested, simplified and rapid PCR method using mip primers proved to be more sensitive than culture and as sensitive and specific as other PCR procedures previously reported.