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Clin Infect Dis. 2011 May;52 Suppl 4:S290-5. doi: 10.1093/cid/cir044.

Molecular diagnosis of respiratory tract infection in acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

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Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, Department of Medicine, University at Buffalo, State University of New York, Veterans Affairs Western New York Health Care System, Buffalo, New York 14215, USA.


Acute exacerbations are significant events in the course of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Modern diagnostic techniques have revealed an infectious cause for the majority of exacerbations. Common respiratory viruses contribute to 25%-50% of exacerbations. Detection of viral nucleic acids in nasopharyngeal swab or sputum samples has become the preferred method to study viral exacerbations instead of viral cultures and serologic examination. Clinical application of such molecular detection requires additional studies to clarify interpretation of a positive result. Bacteria account for 25%-50% of exacerbations. Studies comparing molecular detection of bacteria in sputum with conventional culture techniques have shown that a substantial proportion of bacteria are not detected by the latter method. However, as with molecular viral detection, clinical application of molecular bacterial diagnosis requires additional studies. Although still faced with several challenges and requiring additional development, it is quite likely that molecular methods will become the preferred methods for determining the etiology of exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

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