Accuracy and precision of Legionella isolation by US laboratories in the ELITE program pilot study

Water Res. 2011 Oct 1;45(15):4428-36. doi: 10.1016/j.watres.2011.05.030. Epub 2011 Jun 7.


A pilot study for the Environmental Legionella Isolation Techniques Evaluation (ELITE) Program, a proficiency testing scheme for US laboratories that culture Legionella from environmental samples, was conducted September 1, 2008 through March 31, 2009. Participants (n=20) processed panels consisting of six sample types: pure and mixed positive, pure and mixed negative, pure and mixed variable. The majority (93%) of all samples (n=286) were correctly characterized, with 88.5% of samples positive for Legionella and 100% of negative samples identified correctly. Variable samples were incorrectly identified as negative in 36.9% of reports. For all samples reported positive (n=128), participants underestimated the cfu/ml by a mean of 1.25 logs with standard deviation of 0.78 logs, standard error of 0.07 logs, and a range of 3.57 logs compared to the CDC re-test value. Centering results around the interlaboratory mean yielded a standard deviation of 0.65 logs, standard error of 0.06 logs, and a range of 3.22 logs. Sampling protocol, treatment regimen, culture procedure, and laboratory experience did not significantly affect the accuracy or precision of reported concentrations. Qualitative and quantitative results from the ELITE pilot study were similar to reports from a corresponding proficiency testing scheme available in the European Union, indicating these results are probably valid for most environmental laboratories worldwide. The large enumeration error observed suggests that the need for remediation of a water system should not be determined solely by the concentration of Legionella observed in a sample since that value is likely to underestimate the true level of contamination.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteriological Techniques / standards*
  • Colony Count, Microbial
  • Environmental Restoration and Remediation / methods
  • Legionella / growth & development
  • Legionella / isolation & purification*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Program Evaluation
  • United States