Pulmonary nocardiosis: clinical experience in ten cases

Respiration. 2001;68(4):382-8. doi: 10.1159/000050531.


Background: Pulmonary nocardiosis is an infrequent infection whose incidence seems to be increasing due to a higher degree of clinical suspicion and the increasing number of immunosuppressive factors.

Objective: To study the predisposing factors, clinical characteristics, diagnostic procedures, treatment and progress of pulmonary nocardiosis (PN).

Methods: Review of 10 patients (9 male, 1 female, mean age 61) with PN in a 600-bed teaching hospital, diagnosed from 1992 to 1999.

Results: Associated diseases observed were chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in 6 patients, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection in 3 and polymyalgia rheumatica in 1. Four patients had received oral corticotherapy for COPD for over a year (mean dose 13 mg/day of prednisone or equivalent). The main reason for consultation was an increase in dyspnea in the patients with COPD (6/6) and fever in those with HIV (3/3). Mean time between onset of symptoms and diagnosis was 5 weeks. In 8 patients, the infection occurred outside the hospital setting. The infection was restricted to the lung in 9/10; in the remaining case, the central nervous system (CNS) and subcutaneous tissue were affected. Lobar or multilobar consolidation was the most frequent radiographic pattern found (6/10). Sputum culture was positive when performed (8 cases). Diagnosis was made or confirmed by bronchoscopy (bronchoaspirate or protected specimen brush) in 5 patients. Germs isolated were: Nocardia asteroides (8/10), Nocardia farcinica (1/10), Nocardia otitidiscaviarum (1/10). Cotrimoxazole was the most used empirical treatment (6/10). Resolution was achieved in 5 cases. Four subjects died: 1 HIV patient with disseminated nocardiosis, and 3 COPD patients, 2 of whom had received long-term corticotherapy. Illness recurred in only 1 case, due to failure to comply with treatment.

Conclusions: (1) In our geographical setting Nocardia presents as a subacute or chronic pulmonary infection, mainly outside the hospital. (2) It tends to affect only the lung. (3) Diagnosis requires a high clinical suspicion, and can be made on the basis of a sputum culture. (4) Nocardia tends to attack patients with underlying COPD, or immunodepressed patients treated with glucocorticoids, or patients with HIV infection. (5) Mortality is high in both COPD and HIV patients. (6) In our area, cotrimoxazole seems to be the most commonly prescribed treatment.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases / diagnosis
  • Lung Diseases / drug therapy
  • Lung Diseases / microbiology*
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / complications
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nocardia Infections* / complications
  • Nocardia Infections* / diagnosis
  • Nocardia Infections* / drug therapy
  • Nocardia asteroides
  • Respiratory Tract Infections* / diagnosis
  • Respiratory Tract Infections* / drug therapy
  • Respiratory Tract Infections* / microbiology
  • Retrospective Studies