Nocardia is a ubiquitous environmental pathogen that causes infection primarily following inhalation into the lungs. It is generally thought to cause infection primarily in immunocompromised patients, but nonimmunocompromised individuals are also at risk of infection. We sought to compare risk factors, clinical manifestations, diagnostic approach, treatment, and mortality in immunocompromised and nonimmunocompromised adults with nocardiosis.
We studied all adults with culture-proven Nocardia infection at a tertiary care hospital from 1994 to 2015 and compared immunocompromised with nonimmunocompromised patients. The immunocompromised group included patients who had a solid organ transplant, hematopoietic cell transplant (HCT), hematological or solid tumor malignancy treated with chemotherapy in the preceding 90 days, inherited immunodeficiency, autoimmune/inflammatory disorders treated with immunosuppressive agents, or high-dose corticosteroid therapy for at least 3 weeks before the diagnosis of nocardiosis.
There were 112 patients, mean age 55 ± 17 years; 54 (48%) were women. Sixty-seven (60%) were immunocompromised, and 45 (40%) were nonimmunocompromised. The lung was the site of infection in 54 (81%) immunocompromised and 25 (55%) nonimmunocompromised patients. Pulmonary nocardiosis in immunocompromised patients was associated with high-dose corticosteroids, P = .002 and allogeneic HCT, P = .01, and in nonimmunocompromised patients with cigarette smoking, bronchiectasis, and other chronic lung diseases, P = .002.
Cavitation occurred only in the immunocompromised group, P < .001. Disseminated infection was more common in the immunocompromised, P = .01, and was highest in solid organ transplant recipients, P = .007. Eye infection was more common in nonimmunocompromised patients, P = .009. Clinical signs and symptoms did not differ significantly between the 2 groups. The initial treatment for most patients in both groups was trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole with or without a carbapenem. All-cause 1-year mortality was 19%; 18 (27%) immunocompromised and 3 (7%) nonimmunocompromised patients died, P = .01.
Immunocompromised patients with nocardiosis had more severe disease and significantly higher mortality than nonimmunocompromised patients, but clinical presentations did not differ.