Comparison of In Vivo Confocal Microscopy, PCR and Culture of Corneal Scrapes in the Diagnosis of Acanthamoeba Keratitis

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Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK) is an uncommon but serious corneal infection, in which delayed diagnosis carries a poor prognosis. Conventional culture requires a long incubation period and has low sensitivity. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and in vivo confocal microscopy (IVCM) are available alternative diagnostic modalities that have increasing clinical utility. This study compares confocal microscopy, PCR, and corneal scrape culture in the early diagnosis of AK.


We reviewed the case notes of patients with a differential diagnosis of AK between June 2016 and February 2017 at the Bristol Eye Hospital, United Kingdom. Clinical features at presentation, and results of IVCM, PCR, and corneal scrape cultures were analyzed.


A total of 25 case records were reviewed. AK was diagnosed in 14 patients (15 eyes). Based on the definition of “definite AK,” the diagnostic sensitivities of IVCM, PCR, and corneal scrape cultures were 100% [95% confidence interval (CI), 63.1%–100%], 71.4% (95% CI, 41.9%–91.6%) and 33.3% (95% CI, 9.9%–65.1%), respectively. The 3 methods showed a specificity of 100% and a positive predictive value of 100%. Using a reference standard of only positive corneal cultures, IVCM, and PCR had a sensitivity of 100% (95% CI, 29.2%–100%) and 75% (95% CI, 19.4%–99.4%), respectively.


All 3 diagnostic tests are highly specific, and a positive test result is highly predictive of disease presence. IVCM is both highly sensitive and specific when performed by an experienced operator. PCR is a useful adjunct in the diagnosis of AK because of its wider availability compared with IVCM, and it may be used in combination with IVCM for microbiologic confirmation.

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