Microbiology Case Study: A 40 Year Old Woman with Fever, Chills, and Leg Pain

Clinical History

A 40 year old African American female with a history of sickle cell disease presented to an outpatient clinic with fever, chills, and leg and back pain consistent with a sickle cell crisis. Her past medical history was also significant for asthma and seizures. She rated her pain as 10 out of 10, her vitals showed a temperature of 101.0°F, and she was also tachycardic and hypotensive. Her white blood cell count was 23.0 TH/cm2, hemoglobin 8.4 g/dL, hematocrit 26.0%, and platelets 619,000 TH/cm2. In clinic, she received pain medications and a fluid bolus, two sets of blood cultures were collected, and she was transferred to the emergency department for further work up.

Laboratory Identification

Image 1. Gram stain from a positive blood culture bottle showing small, gram positive budding yeast (1000x oil immersion).
Image 2. A mucoid, salmon-colored yeast grew on Sabouraud dextrose and chocolate agars.

Blood culture bottles were positive after approximately two days on the automated instrument. The Gram stain showed small, gram positive budding yeast (Image 1). The BioFire FilmArray for blood culture identification was negative for Candida albicans, C. glabrata, C. krusei, C. parapsilosis, and C. tropicalis. At this time, she was started on micafungin for antifungal therapy. A mucoid, salmon colored yeast grew on both Sabouraud dextrose and chocolate agars (Image 2) and was identified by Vitek 2 as Rhodotorula spp.

Discussion

Rhodotorula spp. are basidiomycetous yeasts that make up the normal microbiota on moist skin and can be found in bathtubs and on shower curtains. Rhodotorula spp. are usually considered contaminants, but can rarely cause fungemia in patients with central lines, endocarditis, peritonitis, and meningitis, especially in those that are immunocompromised. R. mucilaginosa, R. glutinis, and R. minuta are the species commonly associated with human disease. 

In the laboratory, Rhodotorula spp. grow as a mucoid, salmon colored yeast within 1-3 days of incubation. On Gram stain or lactophenol cotton blue prep, the yeast is small and round to oval with multilateral budding. Pseudohyphae are not usually present. Rhodotorula spp. produce urease and fail to ferment carbohydrates. R. mucilaginosa is negative for nitrate assimilation. Identification can also be confirmed by commercial kits, automated systems, and MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry. Rhodotorula spp. are intrinsically resistant to echinocandins and fluconazole.

In the case of our patient, she was switched to intravenous amphotericin B after the identification of Rhodotorula spp. was made. Reference laboratory testing identified the isolate as R. mucilaginosa with high minimum inhibitory concentrations (MIC) to fluconazole and echinocandins. Amphotericin had an MIC of 0.5 µg/ml. She successfully completed a 14 day course with close monitoring of creatinine, electrolytes, and platelet count. Repeat blood cultures were negative and no other focuses of infection were found on CT scans, transthoracic echocardiogram, and ophthalmology exam.

-Lisa Stempak, MD, is an Assistant Professor of Pathology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, MS. She is certified by the American Board of Pathology in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology as well as Medical Microbiology. She is the Director of Clinical Pathology as well as the Microbiology and Serology Laboratories. Her interests include infectious disease histology, process and quality improvement, and resident education.

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