Infectious pulmonary nodules in immunocompromised patients: usefulness of computed tomography in predicting their etiology

J Comput Assist Tomogr. 2003 Jul-Aug;27(4):461-8. doi: 10.1097/00004728-200307000-00001.


Purpose: To review the high-resolution computed tomography (CT) findings in immunocompromised patients who had nodular opacities and a proven diagnosis to determine whether the various infectious pulmonary nodules have distinguishing features on CT.

Materials and methods: The high-resolution CT scans obtained in 78 immunocompromised patients with solitary or multiple nodular opacities of proven infectious etiology were reviewed retrospectively by 2 independent thoracic radiologists. Patients whose predominant abnormality consisted of branching linear or nodular opacities (tree-in-bud pattern) characteristic of infectious bronchiolitis and endobronchial spread of tuberculosis were excluded. The CT scans were assessed for the presence, appearance, size, and distribution of parenchymal nodules. Relations between findings at CT and the different infectious etiologies of nodules were assessed with regression analysis. Agreement between the 2 observers was assessed using the kappa statistic.

Results: The infectious causes included mycobacteria (n = 24), fungi (n = 22), bacteria (n = 20), and viruses (n = 12). Multivariate analysis demonstrated that a diameter <10 mm was the only independent predictor of etiology (P < 0.0001) and that patients whose nodules all measured less than 10 mm in diameter were most likely to have a viral infection. Nodules limited in size to less than 10 mm in diameter were seen in 83% of viral infections compared with 5% of bacterial infections (odds ratio [OR] = 95.0; 95% confidence interval (CI): 6.08-4,321.5, P < 0.0001), 0% of mycobacterial infections (OR = 91.7; 95% CI: 7.21-4,090.22, P < 0.0001), and 14% of fungal infections (OR = 31.67; 95% CI: 3.56-375.09, P = 0.0003).

Conclusion: Although some overlap exists, nodule size is helpful in the differential diagnosis of infectious causes of nodules in immunocompromised patients. Patients whose nodules are all less than 10 mm in diameter are most likely to have a viral infection.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / complications
  • Adult
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunocompromised Host*
  • Lung Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lung Diseases / microbiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Solitary Pulmonary Nodule / diagnostic imaging*
  • Solitary Pulmonary Nodule / microbiology
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*