Objective: To assess the role of Flavobacterium spp. infection in patients with HIV disease.
Methods: Clinical charts of 2412 consecutive HIV-infected patients hospitalized in a 8-year period were retrospectively reviewed, to identify all cases of Flavobacterium spp. infections, and to evaluate their occurrence and outcome according to several epidemiological, clinical, and laboratory parameters.
Results: Six patients out of 2412 (0.25%), developed Flavobacterium spp. complications: septicaemia in five cases, and pneumonia in the remaining patient, with F. meningosepticum and F. odoratum isolated in two cases and one case, respectively, and unnamed Flavobacterium spp. organisms in the remaining three cases. Flavobacterium spp. organisms were responsible for six out of 1939 overall episodes of non-mycobacterial bacterial diseases observed in our patient group (0.31%). All patients were severely immunocompromised, showing a prior diagnosis of AIDS, a mean CD4+ lymphocyte count of 64.2 (range 12-187) cells/microl, and a mean neutrophil count of 1.143 (range 700-1600) cells (range 700-1600) cells/microl. Antibiotic, corticosteriod, or cotrimoxazole treatment was carried out during the month preceding disease onset by three, two and five patients, respectively. Community-acquired and nosocomial Flavobacterium spp. disease were equally frequent, but the latter occurred with a significantly lower mean neutrophil and CD4+ cell count. Antimicrobial susceptibility assays showed complete sensitivity to ciprofloxacin, and variable resistance to ureidopenicillins, ceftazidime, imipenem, aztreonam, and aminoglycosides. An appropriate antimicrobial regimen obtained clinical and microbiological cure in all cases, in absence of related mortality or relapses.
Conclusions: Since only one episode of HIV-associated F. (Sphingobacterium) multivorum complication has been described to date, our series represents the largest one dealing with Flavobacterium spp. infection in the setting of HIV disease. Our experience suggests that Flavobacterium spp. organisms may play a pathogenic role in patients with advanced HIV disease, even when some commonly recognized risk factors are lacking (i.e. indwelling catheters, instrumentation, IV drug abuse), while a very low CD4+ lymphocyte count, leukopaenia-neutropaenia, and concurrent AIDS-related infectious complications may act as important predisposing factors. In view of the infrequent occurrence of these infections, early suspicion is essential for both clinicians and microbiologists facing immunocompromised patients at risk for invasive bacterial complications. Flavobacterium spp. organisms should be taken into consideration as nosocomial- or community-acquired opportunistic pathogens, due to their relationship with advanced immunodeficiency and their elevated resistance to many antimicrobial agents commonly used against Gram-negative bacterial pathogens.