Comparison of traditional microbiological culture and 16S polymerase chain reaction analyses for identification of preoperative airway colonization for patients undergoing lung resection

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Preoperative airway colonization is associated with increased risk of postoperative respiratory complications following lung resection. This study compares the rates of preoperative lower respiratory tract colonization identified by traditional culture and novel 16S polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

Materials and methods:

Preoperative sputum and bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) samples for 49 lung resection patients underwent culture and 16S PCR analyses. Rates of positive test results were determined and relationships between test results and suspected postoperative respiratory tract infection and hospital length of stay (LOS) were investigated.


Preoperative BAL cultures were positive for 29 (59.2%) patients (population estimate 95%CI 45.2%–71.8%). 16S PCR tests were positive for 28 (57.1%) patients (population estimate 95%CI 43.3%–70.0%). 17 (34.7%) patients suffered suspected postoperative respiratory tract infection (population estimate 95%CI 22.9%–48.7%). Positive 16S PCR results tended to be associated with longer LOS (median 7.5 days vs 4.0 days for negative, p = 0.08) and increased risk of suspected postoperative respiratory tract infection (46.4% for positive vs 19.0% for negative, p = 0.07).


Rates of colonization identified by culture and 16S PCR analyses of BAL samples were similar. Future research should attempt to clarify associations between airway colonization identified by 16S PCR and outcomes. 16S PCR may be useful when stratifying risk of postoperative respiratory complications.

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