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Lett Appl Microbiol. 2005;41(6):470-5.

Detection of Legionella pneumophila in water samples by species-specific real-time and nested PCR assays.

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ARPA, Regional Agency for Environmental Protection and Health Prevention, Emilia Romagna Region, Bologna, Italy.

Erratum in

  • Lett Appl Microbiol. 2006 Mar;42(3):304. Bucca Sabattini, MA [corrected to Bucci Sabattini, MA].



Legionella pneumophila is a contaminant of man-made water systems, including potable water, cooling towers, water systems of large buildings, etc. It is the most common causative agent of legionellosis, a respiratory infection, which may give rise to restricted outbreaks. To survey environmental water samples from hospitals and private habitations in Bologna, we developed a species-specific nested and a TaqMan real-time PCR for the detection of L. pneumophila. We compared the two assays and both to cultural isolation.


The targeted gene was macrophage infectivity potentiator (mip), conserved in L. pneumophila, and divergent in other legionellae. One assay was based on a nested PCR and the other on a TaqMan real-time PCR protocol. Their sensitivities were 14 % or 5% higher than that of cultural isolation respectively. The detection limits were 1-2 genome equivalents per 50-microl reaction. Specificity was assessed using DNA from nine target and 20 nontarget organisms.


When applied to water samples, both assays detected L. pneumophila at 80% or higher frequency.


The species-specific molecular diagnosis of L. pneumophila by means of nested PCR does not require a specific instrumentation, exhibits a high sensitivity, and is advantageous over the cultural isolation and real-time PCR detection. It allows to quickly monitor water samples for the risk assessment of environmental contaminations.

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