Objectives: To study the demographic, clinical, radiographic and diagnostic features, the clinical course and therapeutic response of pulmonary cryptococcosis in HIV-1-infected patients.
Design: Retrospective review.
Setting: The Department of Medicine of an urban reference hospital in Central Africa.
Methods: All the records of HIV-1-infected patients with pulmonary cryptococcosis were reviewed retrospectively with regard to the parameters described above.
Results: Over a 3-year period, pulmonary cryptococcosis was diagnosed in 37 HIV-1-infected Rwandan patients (21 men, 16 women; mean age, 35 years; range, 26-55 years). Twenty-nine patients (78%) had primary pulmonary cryptococcosis. Cough (94%), weight loss (65%), fever (51%), dyspnoea (46%), thoracic pain (30%), headache (13%) and haemoptysis (8%) were the predominant clinical findings. A diffuse interstitial infiltrate on chest radiograph was observed in 76% of the patients, an alveolar pattern in 19%, mediastinal and/or hilar adenopathy in 11%, nodules and pleural effusion each in 5%. Bronchoalveolar lavage, with a yield of 82%, was found to be the most sensitive diagnostic procedure. Screening of cryptococcal antigen in the serum failed to detect cases of primary pulmonary cryptococcosis. Twelve patients with primary pulmonary cryptococcosis treated with itraconazole as acute and maintenance therapy were all protected against disseminated cryptococcal disease; seven out of 10 (70%) of those who did not receive a specific anticryptococcal drug developed disseminated cryptococcal disease.
Conclusion: Pulmonary cryptococcosis is not a rare complication of HIV-1 infection in Rwanda. Its clinical and radiographic patterns are non-specific and bronchoalveolar lavage is the procedure of choice for its diagnosis. The natural history of untreated primary pulmonary cryptococcosis is disseminated cryptococcal disease. Itraconazole is highly effective in the prevention of disseminated cryptococcal disease in patients with primary pulmonary cryptococcosis.