A 33 year old African American female presents to the hospital complaining of mild abdominal pain for the past couple of days. She is 17 weeks pregnant and has a history of two prior spontaneous abortions at 15 and 16 weeks due to a shortened cervix. She is afebrile and denies any vaginal bleeding or leakage of amniotic fluid. A complete blood count reveals mild leukocytosis and anemia. On physical examination, her cervix is 2 cm dilated with bulging membranes. She is admitted for a possible cerclage placement, and an amniocentesis is performed to rule out infection prior to the procedure. The microbiology lab received 20 ml of clear, amber fluid for Gram stain and bacterial culture.
The Gram stain showed moderate fusiform Gram negative bacilli in a background of many acute inflammatory white blood cells. Bacterial cultures grew small, greyish-white colonies as Brucella blood agar and routine blood agar after 48 hours of incubation under anaerobic conditions at 35°C. No growth was observed on kanamycin-vancomycin laked blood (KVLB) agar. The organism was identified by MALDI-TOF as Fusobacterium nucleatum and confirmed using the Vitek anaerobic identification card.
Fusobacterium nucleatum is an anaerobic, Gram-negative rod that is non-spore forming. It is considered normal flora of the oral cavity and gastrointestinal & genitourinary tracts of healthy adults. F. nucleatum has been implicated in the pathogenesis of oropharyngeal infections, especially in neutropenic patients with mucositis after receiving chemotherapy or bone marrow transplant. It is an important etiologic agent in a wide spectrum of extraoral infections including bacteremia, brain abscess, osteomyelitis and infections of the genitorurinary tract, including the fetal membranes. There have been many documented cases linking infections with F. nucleatum to chorioamnionitis, preterm birth, and neonatal sepsis. The mode of transmission of F. nucleatum to the amniotic fluid can be as a result of direct extension from the vaginal tract, hematogenous spread or as recently implicated, orogenital transmission.
Given that F. nucleatum is the most common of Fusobacterium species found in clinical specimens and it’s potential to cause significant disease, early identification of the pathogen is important. It grows well on a non-selective anaerobic agar and its growth is inhibited on Bacteroides bile esculin (BBE) and kanamycin-vancomycin laked blood (KVLB) agars. After 48 hours of incubation under anaerobic conditions, the colonies measure 1-2 mm in diameter and have been noted to have a characteristic internal flecking quality that is referred to as “speckled opalescence”. On Gram stain, the fusiform cells of F. nucleatum are long (usually 5-10 µm in length), slender filaments with tapered ends and may contain spherical swellings. In regards to biochemical testing, it is indole positive and lipase negative. Disk testing for Fusobacterium spp. shows the bacteria are resistant to vancomycin and susceptible to kanamycin and colistin.
While susceptibility testing is not routinely performed for all anaerobes, testing is indicated for organisms in pure culture isolated from normally sterile sites or for those more virulent organisms for which susceptibilities cannot be predicted. In the case of Fusobacterium spp., penicillin and ampicillin resistance among isolates of has been reported due to beta-lactamase production and it is recommended that all Gram negative anaerobes have a beta-lactamase screen performed. F. nucleatum is routinely susceptible to metronidazole, clindamycin and beta-lactam beta-lactamase inhibitor combination antibiotics.
In the case of our patient, her diagnosis of F. nucleatum in the amniotic fluid specimen precluded her from obtaining a rescue cerclage procedure. She was transferred to labor and delivery for a uterine evacuation secondary to the intra-amniotic infection and delivered a non-viable fetus. She received ampicillin and gentamicin as intravenous antibiotics.
-Brooke Sims, MD, is a third year Anatomic and Clinical Pathology resident at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
-Lisa Stempak, MD, is an Assistant Professor of Pathology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, MS. Currently, she oversees testing performed in both the Chemistry and Microbiology Laboratories.