Nocardia species is an uncommon pathogen that affects both immunosuppressed and immunocompetent patients. The clinical and microbiologic spectrum of nocardiosis has changed recently due to the widespread use of cotrimoxazole prophylaxis, the emergence of new types of immunosuppressed patients, and the improved identification of isolates using molecular techniques. Nocardia asteroides was traditionally considered the predominant organism, and prophylaxis with cotrimoxazole was considered almost universally protective. We conducted the current study to determine the incidence of nocardiosis and its microbiologic and clinical characteristics in a general hospital over the last 12 years. We reviewed the clinical records of all patients in whom Nocardia species was isolated from clinical specimens between 1995 and 2006. Nocardia isolates were identified by standard procedures and by 5′ end 16S rRNA gene polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and sequencing. Susceptibility to cotrimoxazole, minocycline, imipenem, linezolid, and amikacin was determined by the broth microdilution method following the guidelines of the Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute.
The incidence of Nocardia infections did not increase significantly during the study period (0.39/100,000 inhabitants in 1995-1998 and 0.55/100,000 inhabitants in 2003-2006). Nocardia was recovered from 43 patients. Six were considered to be colonized. The colonizing species were N. farcinica, N. nova, and N. asteroides. All colonized patients had severe underlying pulmonary conditions and were treated with antimicrobials (6 patients) or corticosteroids (4 patients). Invasive nocardiosis was diagnosed in 37 patients (86.5% were men, and their mean age was 55.8 ± 17.3 yr). The most common underlying condition in our institution was human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection (10 patients; 27%), followed by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (8 patients; 21.6%), autoimmune diseases (8 patients; 21.6%), solid organ transplantation (7 patients; 18.9%), and cancer (4 patients; 10.8%). The most important risk factor for nocardiosis was corticosteroid administration (23 patients; 62.2%). Nocardiosis affected the lungs in 26 cases (70.3%), the skin in 3 cases (8.1%), and the central nervous system in 2 cases (5.4%). It was disseminated in 5 cases (13.5%) and caused otomastoiditis in 1 (2.7%). The species identified were N. cyriacigeorgica (32.4%), N. farcinica (24.3%), N. otitidiscaviarum (10.8%), N. veterana (8.1%), N. nova (5.4%), N. abscessus (5.4%), N. asiatica (2.7%), N. beijingensis (2.7%), N. brasiliensis (2.7%), N. carnea (2.7%), and Nocardia species (2.7%).
Linezolid and amikacin were uniformly active against all the isolates, whereas 29.7% of isolates showed intermediate susceptibility to minocycline (minimum inhibitory concentration = 2 mg/L), 10.8% were resistant to cotrimoxazole, and 5.4% were resistant to imipenem. Nocardiosis occurred while the patients were on cotrimoxazole prophylaxis in 8 cases (21.6%). The strains isolated from these patients were susceptible to cotrimoxazole in 5 cases (62.5%) and resistant in 3 (37.5%). Overall, 13 patients died (35.1%); related mortality was 21.6% (8 patients). We conclude that HIV infection has become the most common underlying condition for invasive nocardiosis in our institution, followed by chronic lung disease. Previous use of corticosteroids was the main risk factor and was present in more than half the patients. New species of Nocardia have been identified, and administration of cotrimoxazole prophylaxis should no longer be considered highly reliable protection against nocardiosis. Larger studies of nocardiosis are required to better identify risk factors associated with mortality, and alternative and more effective methods of prevention must be developed.