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J Clin Microbiol. 2013 Oct;51(10):3192-8. doi: 10.1128/JCM.00993-13. Epub 2013 Jul 17.

High Coxiella burnetii DNA load in serum during acute Q fever is associated with progression to a serologic profile indicative of chronic Q fever.

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Department of Medical Microbiology and Infection Control, Jeroen Bosch Hospital, 's-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands.


PCR is very effective in diagnosing acute Q fever in the early stages of infection, when bacterial DNA is present in the bloodstream but antibodies have not yet developed. The objective of this study was to further analyze the diagnostic value of semiquantitative real-time PCR (qPCR) in diagnosing acute Q fever in an outbreak situation. At the Jeroen Bosch Hospital, in 2009, qPCR testing for Coxiella burnetii DNA was performed for 2,715 patients suspected of having acute Q fever (positive, n = 385; negative, n = 2,330). The sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value (PPV), and negative predictive value (NPV) of the qPCR assay were calculated for patients with negative qPCR results with a follow-up sample obtained within 14 days (n = 305) and qPCR-positive patients with at least one follow-up sample (n = 369). The correctness of the qPCR result was based on immunofluorescence assay results for samples submitted for qPCR and follow-up testing. The sensitivity of the Q fever qPCR assay was 92.2%, specificity 98.9%, PPV 99.2%, and NPV 89.8%. Patients who later developed serologic profiles indicative of chronic Q fever infection had significantly higher C. burnetii DNA loads during the acute phase than did patients who did not (P < 0.001). qPCR testing is a valuable tool for the diagnosis of acute Q fever and should be used in outbreak situations when the onset of symptoms is <15 days earlier. Special attention is needed in the follow-up monitoring of patients with high C. burnetii DNA loads during the acute phase, as this might be an indicator for the development of a serologic profile indicative of chronic infection.

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