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Clin Microbiol Infect. 2007 Jun;13(6):627-34. Epub 2007 Mar 22.

Serological testing for Bartonella henselae infections in The Netherlands: clinical evaluation of immunofluorescence assay and ELISA.

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Department of Pediatrics, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Cat-scratch disease (CSD), caused by Bartonella henselae infection, can mimic malignancy and can manifest atypically. Reliable serological testing is therefore of great clinical importance. The diagnostic performance of immunofluorescence assay (IFA) and ELISA was evaluated in a group of Dutch patients with proven CSD (clinical diagnosis confirmed by PCR). Sera of 51 CSD patients and 56 controls (patients with similar symptoms, but who were B. henselae PCR-negative and had an alternative confirmed diagnosis) were tested for anti-B. henselae IgM and IgG by IFA and ELISA. A commercially available IFA test for IgM had a sensitivity of 6%. In-house assays for IgM showed specificities of 93% (IFA) and 91% (ELISA), but with low sensitivities (53% and 65%, respectively). With a specificity of 82% (IFA) and 91% (ELISA), in-house IgG testing showed a significantly higher sensitivity in IFA (67%) than in ELISA (28%, p <0.01). Sensitivity was higher for genotype I (38-75%) than for genotype II (7-67%) infections, but this was only statistically significant for IgG ELISA (p <0.05). In conclusion, detection of IgM against B. henselae by in-house ELISA and IFA was highly specific for the diagnosis of CSD. The high seroprevalence in healthy individuals limits the clinical value of IgG detection for diagnosing CSD. Given the low sensitivity of the serological assays, negative serology does not rule out CSD and warrants further investigation, including PCR. Adding locally isolated (e.g., genotype II) B. henselae strains to future tests might improve the sensitivity.

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