Use of the polymerase chain reaction to detect Legionella DNA in urine and serum samples from patients with pneumonia

Clin Infect Dis. 1996 Sep;23(3):475-80. doi: 10.1093/clinids/23.3.475.


Legionella pneumonia can be difficult to diagnose. Existing laboratory tests for detecting Legionella species lack sensitivity or provide only a retrospective diagnosis. We used the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) with primers that amplify a 104-base pair segment of the coding region of the 5S tRNA gene to detect Legionella DNA in urine and serum samples from patients with pneumonia. Stored urine and serum samples from patients enrolled in two prospective studies of pneumonia were tested. Legionella DNA was detected in urine and/or serum samples from 18 (64%) of 28 patients with legionella pneumonia diagnosed by conventional tests, but it was not detected in urine or serum samples from 24 patients with pneumonia due to other organisms. The sensitivity of PCR improved to 73% if testing was restricted to samples taken within 4 days of the onset of symptoms. Detection of Legionella DNA in urine and serum promises to be a valuable tool for the rapid diagnosis of legionella pneumonia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • DNA, Bacterial / analysis*
  • DNA, Bacterial / blood
  • DNA, Bacterial / urine
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Legionella / classification
  • Legionella / isolation & purification*
  • Legionnaires' Disease / blood
  • Legionnaires' Disease / diagnosis*
  • Legionnaires' Disease / urine
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / blood
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / microbiology*
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / urine
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Serotyping


  • DNA, Bacterial