How is Legionnaires disease diagnosed?

Updated: Aug 24, 2018
  • Author: Burke A Cunha, MD; Chief Editor: Michael Stuart Bronze, MD  more...
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The definitive method for diagnosing Legionella is isolation of the organism in the respiratory secretions (ie, sputum, lung fluid, pleural fluid). However, Legionella species do not grow on standard microbiologic media but instead require buffered charcoal yeast extract (CYE) agar and cysteine for growth. Optimal growth occurs at 35-37°C.

Legionella is a slow-growing organism and can take 3-5 days to produce visible colonies. The organisms typically have a ground-glass appearance.

Routine sputum cultures have a sensitivity and specificity of 80% and 100%, respectively. Transtracheal aspiration of secretions or bronchoscopy specimen increases the sensitivity. Bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid provides a higher yield than bronchial wash specimens.

Blood cultures

Legionella can be isolated from blood, but it shows a much lower sensitivity.

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