Objective: Management of outbreaks of pneumonia due to Legionella pneumophila serogroup 1 (SG1) infection requires rapid and accurate diagnostic tests. Current serologic approaches, based on detection of seroconversion for total antibody, do not fulfil this requirement.
Methods: A diagnostic test based on detection of IgM antibody to L. pneumophila SG1 by indirect immunofluorescence was developed and used to evaluate serum samples from patients involved in a community outbreak of L. pneumophila SG1 pneumonia that occurred in Spain.
Results: Testing of samples from serologically proven, sporadic cases of pneumonia due to L. pneumophila SG1 (14), cases of atypical pneumonia due to other infectious agents (16) and healthy controls (100) supported the sensitivity and specificity of the assay. On samples from the outbreak, the IgM assay recognized five of six cases with isolation of L. pneumophila SG1 from respiratory secretions or lung tissue and more than 70% of cases with confirmed or presumptive diagnosis as determined by the current serologic criteria. In addition, the IgM assay was positive in 23-70% of patients who fulfilled the clinical and epidemiologic criteria of case definition but did not display diagnostically significant serologic results or who lacked a detectable antibody response in the routine assay. Among cases confirmed by the current criteria, detection of specific IgM was occasionally achieved before the conventional serology gave significant results.
Conclusion: Incorporation of IgM antibody detection in the current diagnostic criteria for L. pneumophila SG1 infection may help to improve the management of outbreaks of pneumonia due to this agent.