Next- and Third-Generation Sequencing Outperforms Culture-Based Methods in the Diagnosis of Ascitic Fluid Bacterial Infections of ICU Patients

Cells. 2021 Nov 18;10(11):3226. doi: 10.3390/cells10113226.


Objectives: Infections of the ascitic fluid are serious conditions that require rapid diagnosis and treatment. Ascites is often accompanied by other critical pathologies such as gastrointestinal bleeding and bowel perforation, and infection increases the risk of mortality in intensive care patients. Owing to a relatively low success rate of conventional culture methods in identifying the responsible pathogens, new methods may be helpful to guide antimicrobial therapy and to refine empirical regimens. Here, we aim to assess outcomes and to identify responsible pathogens in ascitic fluid infections, in order to improve patients' care and to guide empirical therapy.

Methods: Between October 2019 and March 2021, we prospectively collected 50 ascitic fluid samples from ICU patients with suspected infection. Beside standard culture-based microbiology methods, excess fluid underwent DNA isolation and was analyzed by next- and third-generation sequencing (NGS) methods.

Results: NGS-based methods had higher sensitivity in detecting additional pathogenic bacteria such as E. faecalis and Klebsiella in 33 out of 50 (66%) ascitic fluid samples compared with culture-based methods (26%). Anaerobic bacteria were especially identified by sequencing-based methods in 28 samples (56%), in comparison with only three samples in culture. Analysis of clinical data showed a correlation between sequencing results and various clinical parameters such as peritonitis and hospitalization outcomes.

Conclusions: Our results show that, in ascitic fluid infections, NGS-based methods have a higher sensitivity for the identification of clinically relevant pathogens than standard microbiological culture diagnostics, especially in detecting hard-to-culture anaerobic bacteria. Patients with such infections may benefit from the use of NGS methods by the possibility of earlier and better targeted antimicrobial therapy, which has the potential to lower the high morbidity and mortality in critically ill patients with ascitic bacterial infection.

Keywords: anaerobic bacteria; ascitic fluid infections; full length 16S rRNA sequencing; intensive care unit; metagenomics; molecular diagnostics; nanopore; next-generation sequencing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Anaerobiosis
  • Ascitic Fluid / microbiology*
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Bacterial Infections / diagnosis*
  • Bacterial Infections / genetics*
  • Cell Culture Techniques / methods*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing*
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S