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Clin Diagn Lab Immunol. 1994 Mar;1(2):189-96.

Q fever serology: cutoff determination for microimmunofluorescence.

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Unité des Rickettsies, CNRS EP J 0054, Marseille, France.


Q fever, a worldwide zoonosis caused by Coxiella burnetii, lacks clinical specificity and may present as acute or chronic disease. Because of this polymorphism, serological confirmation is necessary to assess the diagnosis. Although microimmunofluorescence is our reference technique, the cutoff titers that are currently used to make a diagnosis of active or chronic Q fever were determined years ago with limited series of patients and sera. We determined the titers of immunoglobulin G (IgG), IgM, and IgA against both phases (I and II) of Coxiella burnetii. Rheumatoid factor was removed before testing IgM and IgA. We report here the various cutoff titers and the kinetics of antibody development from 2,218 first serum samples of patients, among whom 208 suffered from acute Q fever and 53 had chronic Q fever. In active Q fever, we have defined a low cutoff (phase II IgG titer < or = 100) below which the diagnosis cannot be made and would need further confirmation and confirmed a high cutoff (phase II IgG titer > or = 200 and phase II IgM titer > or = 50) over which the diagnosis can be made. For chronic Q fever diagnosis, phase I IgA titers are not contributive despite previous works claiming their usefulness; a phase I IgG titer of > or = 800 is highly predictive (98%) and sensitive (100%). We have also studied the possibility of rejecting or evoking the diagnosis of chronic Q fever by phase II IgG and IgA titers. This method is useful when phase I testing is not available, but the sensitivity remains low (57%).

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