Molecular Diagnosis of Cat Scratch Disease: a 25-Year Retrospective Comparative Analysis of Various Clinical Specimens and Different PCR Assays

Sher Goaz, Michal Rasis, Inbal Binsky Ehrenreich, Lev Shapira, Ora Halutz, Merav Graidy-Varon, Cecilia Leibovitch, Noam Maisler, Daniel Glikman, Moshe Ephros, Michael Giladi

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6 Scopus citations


Cat-scratch disease (CSD), caused primarily by Bartonella henselae, is a common etiology of infectious regional lymphadenopathy. Lymphadenopathy is preceded by a primary inoculation lesion and may progress to suppuration. Laboratory diagnosis of CSD is hampered by the limitations of available confirmatory tests. PCR, in general, is highly sensitive and specific; however, clinical sensitivity in CSD varies greatly between studies. We aimed to identify clinical specimens and PCR assays best suited for CSD diagnosis using a national CSD registry and a uniform case definition. Different clinical specimens and PCR assays, including conventional and real-time PCR, were evaluated. PCR was positive in 335/390 (86%) CSD patients and 425/482 (88%) PCR tests. The highest PCR sensitivity was achieved in lymph node pus aspirates (96%; n = 278 tests) followed by primary lesions (88%; n = 50), lymph node fine needle aspirations (85%; n = 46), lymph node biopsy specimens (73%; n = 91) and paraffin-embedded lymph nodes (59%; n = 17), (P, 0.001). Sensitivity was similar in all types of PCR assays studied. PCR negative predictive value of pus aspirate and lymph node biopsy specimen patient groups was 82% and 72%, respectively. Specificity was 100% based on 125 non-CSD patients with negative PCR. In conclusion, the specimen type rather than the PCR assay type has a major impact on CSD molecular diagnosis. We assume that the inadequate sensitivity of the biopsy specimens was due to sampling errors or the presence of inhibitory factors. Primary lesions should be sampled more frequently for CSD diagnosis. Physicians should be aware of the low PCR negative predictive value of lymph node biopsy specimens. IMPORTANCE Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for the detection of Bartonella henselae is an important tool for the diagnosis of cat scratch disease (CSD); however, clinical sensitivity varies greatly between studies. The current study shows that the specimen type, with pus aspiration, fine needle aspiration, and primary inoculation lesion having significantly higher sensitivity than fresh or formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded lymph node biopsy specimen, rather than the type of the PCR assay, whether a conventional or a real-time assay, has a major impact on the performance of diagnostic PCR for CSD. The new data provide new tools for the clinical microbiologist when interpreting the results of the PCR assays. Primary inoculation lesions, although easily accessible, are often neglected and should be sampled more frequently for molecular diagnosis of CSD. Physicians should be aware that negative PCR, particularly if performed on fresh or paraffin-embedded lymph node biopsy specimens, does not exclude CSD.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMicrobiology spectrum
Issue number2
StatePublished - 27 Apr 2022

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  • Bartonella henselae
  • PCR
  • cat scratch disease
  • molecular diagnosis


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