Microbial signatures in the lower airways of mechanically ventilated COVID-19 patients associated with poor clinical outcome

Nat Microbiol. 2021 Aug 31. doi: 10.1038/s41564-021-00961-5. Online ahead of print.


Respiratory failure is associated with increased mortality in COVID-19 patients. There are no validated lower airway biomarkers to predict clinical outcome. We investigated whether bacterial respiratory infections were associated with poor clinical outcome of COVID-19 in a prospective, observational cohort of 589 critically ill adults, all of whom required mechanical ventilation. For a subset of 142 patients who underwent bronchoscopy, we quantified SARS-CoV-2 viral load, analysed the lower respiratory tract microbiome using metagenomics and metatranscriptomics and profiled the host immune response. Acquisition of a hospital-acquired respiratory pathogen was not associated with fatal outcome. Poor clinical outcome was associated with lower airway enrichment with an oral commensal (Mycoplasma salivarium). Increased SARS-CoV-2 abundance, low anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibody response and a distinct host transcriptome profile of the lower airways were most predictive of mortality. Our data provide evidence that secondary respiratory infections do not drive mortality in COVID-19 and clinical management strategies should prioritize reducing viral replication and maximizing host responses to SARS-CoV-2.