Objectives: to determine the mechanism(s) of macrolide resistance in Haemophilus influenzae isolated from cystic fibrosis (CF) patients participating in a randomized placebo-controlled trial of azithromycin.
Methods: macrolide susceptibility, mutations and carriage of the macrolide resistance genes erm(A), erm(B), erm(C), erm(F) and mef(A) were determined using PCR assays and sequencing or hybridization of the PCR products. H. influenzae isolates were used as donors in conjugation studies with H. influenzae and Enterococcus faecalis recipients. Transconjugant susceptibility and the macrolide resistance genes carried were determined.
Results: of the 106 H. influenzae isolates, 27 were resistant and 78 intermediate resistant to azithromycin and/or erythromycin. All isolates carried one or more macrolide resistance gene(s), with the mef(A), erm(B) and erm(F) genes found in 74%, 31% and 29% of the isolates, respectively. None of the selected isolates had L4 or L22 mutations. Twenty-five donors, with various macrolide MICs, transferred macrolide resistance genes to H. influenzae Rd (3.5 × 10(-7)-1 × 10(-10)) and/or E. faecalis (1 × 10(-7)-1 × 10(-8)) recipients. The H. influenzae transconjugants were phenotypically resistant or intermediate to both macrolides while E. faecalis transconjugants were erythromycin resistant.
Conclusions: this is the first identification of erm(A), erm(C) and erm(F) genes in H. influenzae or bacteria from CF patients and the first characterization of macrolide gene transfer from H. influenzae donors. The high level of H. influenzae macrolide gene carriage suggests that the use of azithromycin in the CF population may ultimately reduce the effectiveness of continued or repeated macrolide therapy.