Hematology Case Study: Too Many Platelets?

Too many platelets? We know that low platelet counts can pose problems for hematology analyzers and that reporting accurate results is vital for good patient care. We learn and read a lot about thrombocytopenia and its various symptoms, causes, and treatments. But, what about thrombocytosis? What happens when there are too many platelets?

In my last blog I compared 2 cases of newly diagnosed CML. Lately I have seen so many new leukemia cases and myeloproliferative diseases that I have become fascinated with them. When I was in college and grad school (many moons ago), nomenclature, diagnoses and knowledge of these disorders were very different, so it’s been fun learning about them all over again!

Today’s case is of a 55 year old woman who was referred for a hematology consult because of a finding of increased RBC and platelet counts. White blood cells appeared normal with few reactive lymphocytes noted. The peripheral smear showed mild anisocytosis and dacrocytes. Platelets were markedly increased with large forms present. No giant platelets were noted. A bone marrow biopsy was ordered. Pre-Op diagnosis: Thrombocytosis.

Bone marrow results reported increased myeloid forms with full spectrum of maturation, erythroid elements normal in number with normoblastic maturation, and markedly increased megakaryocytes with numerous large hyperlobated forms. M:E ratio was increased. No iron was seen on iron stain. A reticulin stain showed mildly increased reticulum fibrosis (1+). Next generation sequencing studies demonstrated a JAK2 V617F mutation. BCR-ABL mutation was not detected. Diagnosis: Myeloproliferative neoplasm most consistent with Essential Thrombocythemia (ET).

Myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN) are a group of disorders characterized by the over proliferation of WBCs, RBCs, or platelets. These can be separated into the Philadelphia chromosome (Ph) positive Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML) and Ph negative neoplasms. The BCR-ABL oncogene is formed on the Ph and is responsible for the unregulated proliferation of cells seen in CML. At diagnosis over 90% of CML cases are BCR-ABL positive. (See Case Studies in Hematology: Presenting a double feature starring Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia). On the other hand, Polycythemia Vera (PV), Essential Thrombocythemia (ET) and Primary Myelofibrosis (PMF) are the three classic Ph negative neoplasms.

Many ET patients have no symptoms at diagnosis but are found to have a high platelet count on a routine CBC. Diagnosis is based on ruling out other disease and testing for genetic mutations, which can be done from a peripheral blood sample or bone marrow. In addition to any blood tests, a bone marrow biopsy is typically recommended for differential diagnosis of MPNs. The most common mutation found in PV, ET or PMF, is in the JAK2 gene. The JAK2 V617F mutation is found in nearly all PV patients, and about 50-60% of ET and PMF patients.Othermutations found in the classic MPN group include CALR, the second most common genetic abnormality after JAK2 mutations,and MPL W515L.Normally, blood cells are only produced when the body has a need for the cells, but these genetic mutations turn a gene ‘on’, causing the unregulated production of the affected blood cell line. Until recently it was believed that a patient with PV, ET or PMF will have a mutation in only one of these genes. However, in 2018, a French group reported that CALR or MPL mutations may co-exist in a small percentage of patients with a low burden of JAK2 V617F mutation. (Accurso) Some patients are triple-negative for the JAK2MPL and CALR mutations and always have a poor prognosis.

The identification of a genetic marker in MPNs is valuable because a JAK2 mutation distinguishes PV from other disorders that may cause polycythemia. As well, a JAK2 or other mutation can distinguish ET from other causes of reactive thrombocytosis and PMF from secondary causes of myelofibrosis. In addition, most CML cases are diagnosed with a very high WBC, but occasionally patients with CML have a normal or only slightly elevated WBC with a high platelet count. Therefore, patients with suspected ET are also evaluated for CML with a test for the Philadelphia chromosome. Our patient was found to have a JAK2 V617F mutation, BCR-ABL negative and was diagnosed with ET.

ET was first recognized in the 1950’s and was termed a myeloproliferative disorder. At this time, it was not known what was causing the over proliferation of platelets. Theories were broad and ranged from ‘something environmental’ to ‘an internal defect’. Over the decades, it became more apparent that the myeloproliferative disorders were caused by internal defects in stem cells, and they were renamed MPN. In 2005, four separate research groups, using different methods, all identified the JAK2 V617F allele, which led to further understanding of PV, ET and MPN. The MPL mutation was discovered in 2006 and CALR mutations were discovered in 2013.

ET is a type of chronic leukemia and patients with ET generally have a normal life expectancy. Of the 3 BCR-ABL negative MPN, ET has the best prognosis. Treatment is often not needed, other than aspirin for prevention of blood clots. Patients are placed in risk factor groups based on risk of clots or bleeding. A patient <60 years with no JAK 2 mutation and no prior thrombosis is considered very low risk and would be simply observed or prescribed low dose aspirin. Patients <60, JAK2 V617F +, with no prior thrombosis have low risk and would be treated with aspirin, dosage dependent on any cardiac risk factors. Older patients over 60 with JAK2 wild type and no history of thrombosis may be treated with aspirin alone or with cytoreductive therapy. Lastly, the highest risk patients are those over 60, JAK2 V617F + or with prior thrombosis, and would be treated with cytoreductive therapy, such as hydroxyurea. With very high platelet counts, there is a risk of both blood clots and hemorrhage. Blood clots that develop in thrombocythemia can use up the body’s platelets and result in bleeding. For this reason, cytoreductive therapy such as hydroxyurea is recommended to reduce hemorrhage in high-risk patients with very high platelet counts over 1,000 x 103/ μL. Hydroxyurea can also be used as treatment in patients who have a mixed population of PV and ET. CALR mutated patients with ET tend to be young with a much lower thrombotic risk and do not generally require therapy. Aspirin in this group is considered overtreatment because CALR+ patients suffer more risk of bleeding with aspirin.

While there is some risk of a MPN transforming to another type, ET is the MPN least likely to transform or to progress to acute myeloid leukemia. ET also has a better prognosis than the other MPN. Even so, there is often not one clear cut entity. There can be overlap between the disorders, causing some difficulty in diagnosis and treatment decisions. For instance, a physician may have a patient, as our patient does, with a high RBC and Hgb, with thrombocytosis, and with a JAK2 mutation. Bone marrow biopsy may detect hyperlobated megakaryocytes which would indicate a diagnosis of ET; however, the physician may choose to monitor and possibly treat as PV due to the RBC counts and symptoms.

Many advances in the understanding of ET and molecular techniques for diagnosis have been made in the last 10 years. Unfortunately, many times, diagnosis is not made until after a thrombotic event. In addition, many patients with thrombocytosis are not referred for hematology consults in a timely fashion or until they too experience a thrombotic event. In 2016 WHO published a new diagnostic criterion for PV, ET and PMF. There is an effort amongst research and physician groups to ‘spread the news’ throughout the medical community to promote early detection of ET, minimize the risk of thrombotic events and improve prognosis.

References

  1. Accurso V, Santoro M, Mancuso S, et al. The Essential Thrombocythemia in 2020: What We Know and Where We Still Have to Dig Deep. Clin Med Insights Blood Disord. 2020;13:2634853520978210. Published 2020 Dec 28. doi:10.1177/2634853520978210
  2. Bose P, Verstovsek S. Updates in the management of polycythemia vera and essential thrombocythemia. Ther Adv Hematol. 2019;10:2040620719870052. Published 2019 Aug 30. doi:10.1177/2040620719870052
  3. Kilpivaara, O., Levine, R. JAK2 and MPL mutations in myeloproliferative neoplasms: discovery and science. Leukemia 22, 1813–1817 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/leu.2008.229
  4. Panjwani,Laura. Management of ET, PV Requires 2 Distinct Approaches. Special Reports, Hematologic Malignancies: Polycythemia Vera, Volume 3, Issue 3. September 28, 2016
  5. https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/essential-thrombocythemia/
  6. https://www.mpnconnect.com/pdf/who-diagnostic-criteria-mf-pv-et.pdf
Socha-small

-Becky Socha, MS, MLS(ASCP)CMBBCM graduated from Merrimack College in N. Andover, Massachusetts with a BS in Medical Technology and completed her MS in Clinical Laboratory Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. She has worked as a Medical Technologist for over 40 years and has taught as an adjunct faculty member at Merrimack College, UMass Lowell and Stevenson University for over 20 years.  She has worked in all areas of the clinical laboratory, but has a special interest in Hematology and Blood Banking. She currently works at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Md. When she’s not busy being a mad scientist, she can be found outside riding her bicycle.

Microbiology Case Study: An Adult Male with Left Hand Pain

Case History

An adult male presented to the Emergency Department with edema and pain in his left hand. The patient stated that he was bitten by his cat 24 hours prior to admission. Bloodwork was drawn and patient was found to have mild leukocytosis (11.2 x103 cells/uL [reference range, 4-10 x103 cells/uL]) with an elevated neutrophil percentage (76.8% [reference range, 40-70%]). Debridement was performed in the operating room and purulent drainage was send to the lab for aerobic and anaerobic bacterial culture. Gram stain of the purulent drainage showed 3+ white blood cells and mixed bacteria. Mixed aerobic flora grew out in culture, but the predominate isolate was Pasteurella multocida, which grew on 5% sheep blood and Chocolate agar plates (Figure 1) as identified using MALDI-TOF MS.

Figure 1. Growth of Pasteurella multocida on Chocolate Agar after 48hrs incubation at 37°C, 5% CO2.
Figure 2. Gram stain of Pasteurella multocida showing gram negative coccobacilli.

Pasteurella multocida

Pasteurella multocida is one of the most common causes of animal bite-related bacterial infections among patients who present to the Emergency Department in the United States.1 Immunocompetent patients with P. multocida infection typically present with cellulitis at the site of physical injury. These infections usually have a rapid course that can develop within 3 – 48 hours following injury. While most commonly associated with animal bites, immunocompromised patients can acquire Pasteurella simply through animal contact. These rare cases can present as more severe infections involving the respiratory tract and invasive infections including meningitis and endocarditis.

P. multocida is a small, non-motile, facultative anaerobe, which contains an outer polysaccharide capsule. The outer polysaccharide capsule is used to further classify serogroup with most human infections caused by serogroups A and D.2 Further classification into sub-serogroups is determined by the composition of the outer lipopolysaccharide (LPS), which further separates isolates into 16 serovars.3 The bacterium stains as a Gram negative coccobacillus (Figure 2). The recommended growth medium to grow Pasteurella multocida is 5% sheep’s blood agar.4 Of note, P. multocida does not grow on MacConkey agar, unlike most other Gram negative organisms, which can aid in identification of the organism. Most strains of the bacterium test positive for oxidase, catalase, and indole.2

While P. multocida is typically susceptible to penicillin,5 due to the polymicrobial nature of animal bites, broad-spectrum anaerobic and oral flora coverage is recommended for animal bite-related infections. Often, amoxicillin-clavulanate (Augmentin) is used, which will cover the most common organisms including Pasteurella species. Antibiotics which should be avoided for therapy include cephalexin, dicloxacillin, and erythromycin as they have been shown to have inadequate activity against the bacterium.6

References

  1. Martin TCS, Abdelmalek J, Yee B, Lavergne S, Ritter M. Pasteurella multocida line infection: a case report and review of literature. BMC Infect Dis. 2018 Aug 23;18(1):420.
  2. Wilson BA, Ho M. Pasteurella multocida: from zoonosis to cellular microbiology. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2013 Jul;26(3):631-55.
  3. Harper M, Boyce JD, Adler B. The key surface components of Pasteurella multocida: capsule and lipopolysaccharide. Curr Top Microbiol Immunol. 2012;361:39-51.
  4. Lariviere S, Leblanc L, Mittal KR, Martineau GP. Comparison of isolation methods for the recovery of Bordetella bronchiseptica and Pasteurella multocida from the nasal cavities of piglets. J Clin Microbiol. 1993 Feb; 31(2):364-7.
  5. Hasan J, Hug M. Pasteurella Multocida. [Updated 2021 May 24]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557629/
  6. Stevens DL, Bisno AL, Chambers HF, Dellinger EP, Goldstein EJ, Gorbach SL, Hirschmann JV, Kaplan SL, Montoya JG, Wade JC. Practice guidelines for the diagnosis and management of skin and soft tissue infections: 2014 update by the infectious diseases society of America. Clin Infect Dis. 2014 Jul 15;59(2):147-59.

-Tristan R. Grams, is a PhD Candidate at the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL where he studies HSV-1 latency and characterizing SARS-CoV-2 antiviral agents.

-Paige M.K. Larkin, PhD, D(ABMM), M(ASCP)CM is the Director of Molecular Microbiology and Associate Director of Clinical Microbiology at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston, IL. Her interests include mycology, mycobacteriology, point-of-care testing, and molecular diagnostics, especially next generation sequencing.

Microbiology Case Study: Fever and a Blister in a Young Female

A 25 year old female presented to the ED with a mild fever and a blister on her hand, which arose from a rat bite. She stated that she worked with different kinds of animals including rodents. The patient was discharged with clindamycin after two sets of blood cultures were drawn. Anaerobic bottles became positive 48 hours after incubation. Gram stain showed unusual gram negative bacilli (Figure 1). Rapid Multiplex PCR Blood culture identification (FilmArray BCID-2) panel was negative. Poor growth on Blood agar was observed after 48 hours of sub-culture. The organism was identified as Streptobacillus monoliformis by Bruker Biotyper MALDI-ToF.

S. monoliformis appears as pleomorphic gram negative rods, with its classic characteristics of “bulges” or swollen-rods in tangled chains and filaments (Image 1). Sodium polyanethol sulfonate (SPS) inhibits S. monoliformis growth. As aerobic blood culture bottles made by certain manufacturers contain SPS, the growth is mostly seen in anaerobic bottles devoid of SPS. In liquid broth, S. monoliformis grows as “puff balls.”

Since S. moniliformis is a fastidious organism, the Gram stain from direct smears, such as positive blood culture bottles, in the absence of growth on solid agar media provides an adequate preliminary diagnosis. In such circumstances, 16srRNA sequencing provides a definitive identification. When it grows on agar media, it takes from 2-3 days to as long as 7 days and may appear as “fried-egg” colonies.

Wild rodents as well as laboratory rats carry S. moniliformis in their upper respiratory tract. Cats or dogs preying on rodents also carry the organism. Hence, rat bite fever (RBF) typically occurs upon animal bites.

RBF is a systemic disease wherein patients present with fever, vomiting, headache, and muscle pain or joint swelling. While S. monoliformis is the only known cause of RBF reported in the United States, RBF in Asia is caused by Spirillum minus. Signs and symptoms of the RBF caused by these two organisms slightly differ in addition to the fact that S. minus cannot be cultured in vitro. Several cases of endocarditis and septic arthritis due to S. moniliformis have been reported in the United States.

The notion of rat bite fever as a rare infection is likely due to the fact that 1) S. moniliformis is not a reportable disease and 2) the challenges associated with recovery and identification of this organism from culture media. Thus its occurrence maybe underestimated in the past decades. However, the advancement in technology, such as 16srRNA sequencing and MALDI-ToF, has allowed better diagnosis of RBF in recent years. S. moniliformis is generally responsive to penicillin, cephalosporins, carbapenems, aztreonam, clindamycin, clarithromycin, and tetracycline while it may have intermediate susceptibility to aminoglycoside and fluroquinolones. Since there are no definitive minimal inhibitory concentration (MIC) breakpoint guidelines for this organism, clinical laboratories do not generally perform antimicrobial susceptibility testing.

Image 1. Gram stain of Streptobacillus moniliformis from A) positive blood culture bottle and B) subculture growth on blood agar plate (Arrow showing bulging gram negative rods).

References

  1. Elliott SP. 2007. Rat bite fever and Streptobacillus moniliformis. Clin Microbiol Rev 20:13–22.
  2. Manual of Clinical Microbiology. 11th Edition. 2018
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/rat-bite-fever/index.html
  4. Gaastra W, Boot R, Ho HT, Lipman LJ. Rat bite fever. Vet Microbiol. 2009 Jan 13;133(3):211-28. doi: 10.1016/j.vetmic.2008.09.079. Epub 2008 Oct 8. PMID: 19008054.

-Phyu M. Thwe, Ph.D., D(ABMM), MLS(ASCP)CM is Microbiology Technical Director at Allina Health Laboratory in Minneapolis, MN. She completed her CPEP microbiology fellowship at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, TX. Her interest includes appropriate test utilization and extra-pulmonary tuberculosis.

Microbiology Case Study: A Male Patient with Fever, Chills, and Rigors

Case History

An 80 year old male from central Vermont with a history of coronary artery disease, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, hypothyroidism, polymyalgia rheumatica, and osteoarthritis status post bilateral knee replacements presented to the ED for fevers, chills, rigors, and fatigue complaining of a home temperature reading of 39.4C (103F). He explained that within the past week he visited a fair to enjoy petting farm animals and trying locally grown produce, meat, and dairy. In the ED he continued to complain of fever, chills, and fatigue, but did not endorse headaches, neck pain, chest pain, SOB, cough, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. An open wound on his left arm was noted. Labs revealed mildly elevated lactic acid, hyponatremia, chronic anemia, but no leukocytosis.

Microbiology

Bacteremia was suspected, and blood cultures obtained. The next day, his blood cultures were positive. Before an extensive workup involving additional cultures and MALDI-TOF, a gram stain was performed and is shown in Image 1. Also, a preparation from a young broth culture demonstrated motility. Both findings indicate Listeria monocytogenes.

Gram positive rods seen in Gram stain from blood culture.

Discussion

Listeria monocytogenes is a gram positive rod. Features that aid in its diagnosis include a narrow zone of beta hemolysis, catalase positivity, tumbling motility, and that it is a facultative intracellular organism.  

Listeria monocytogenes has one to five peritrichous flagella and demonstrate a “tumbling motility” after incubation of a broth culture at room temperature from 8-24 hours. Listeria monocytogenes also demonstrate a “Christmas tree” or “umbrella” (shown below) pattern of motility when inoculated into a semi solid agar, or “motility medium” (Image 2). This pattern occurs because it grows best in a zone of reduced oxygen tension about 0.5cm below the surface that is also is not strictly anaerobic.1 It also has intracellular motility via polymerization of actin, referred to as “actin rockets,” and can even use this method to spread from one cell to another.

Image 2. “Christmas tree” pattern when Listeria monocytogenes is inoculated into semi-solid agar.

Listeria monocytogenes prefers colder temperatures and is often acquired through consumption of un-pasteurized refrigerated dairy products, deli meats, or produce. Pregnant individuals are more likely to acquire infection as are the young, elderly, or the immunocompromised. Listeria monocytogenes can cause meningitis, usually in newborns or the elderly. Central nervous system or bloodstream infections are treated with ampicillin and gentamycin.2

References

  1. Allerberger F. Listeria: growth, phenotypic differentiation and molecular microbiology. FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol. 2003 Apr 1;35(3):183-9. doi: 10.1016/S0928-8244(02)00447-9. PMID: 12648835. (n.d.).
  2. Gelfand, M., Thompson, J., Geeta S. (2021). Treatment and prevention of Listeria monocytogenes infection. UpToDate. Retrieved September 2, 2021, from https://www-uptodate-com.ezproxy.uvm.edu/contents/treatment-and-prevention-of-listeria-monocytogenes-infe. (n.d.).

-Joe Teague is a Pathology Student Fellow and Brianna Waller, MD is a 3rd year Anatomic and Clinical Pathology Resident at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

-Christi Wojewoda, MD, is the Director of Clinical Microbiology at the University of Vermont Medical Center and an Associate Professor at the University of Vermont.

Microbiology Case Study: A 67 Year Old Man Develops Severe Leg Pain

Case History

A 67 year old male presented with type II diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, obstructive sleep apnea, recurrent GI bleeds, and atrial fibrillation (status post ablation and on rivaroxaban). Given the history of recurrent GI bleeds, he was taken off rivaroxaban and underwent a left atrial appendage occluder device implant procedure. Several hours later, he developed severe leg pain and loss of lower extremity pulses. CT angiogram confirmed Watchman device embolization to the abdominal aorta. The patient received emergent surgical removal of the device. In the ICU, the patient developed worsening rhabdomyolysis, anuria, hypotension, ischemic bowel disease, and died within hours. An autopsy was requested by the next of kin, which revealed an unexpected finding of a 6 cm hilar-based lung mass.

Microbiology

Premortem and postmortem cultures were not collected. Fontana-Masson stain of a section from the hilar lung tissue reveals yeast of varying size with a lighter shade in the center and a thick capsule, though the capsule does not stain and can instead be appreciated as a “halo” (Image 1). Fontana Masson stain also reveals narrow based budding (Image 2). Both findings indicate Cryptococcus neoformans.

Image. 1. Fontana-Masson stain revealing yeast of varying size with a lighter shade in the center and a thick capsule.
Image 2. Fontana-Masson stain revealing narrow based budding

Discussion

Cryptococcus neoformans is a saprophytic yeast (5-10 µm) identified best by its thick polysaccharide, antiphagocytic capsule. It can be infectious when inhaled, often from soil or avian droppings.

While most immunocompetent individuals clear the pathogen, in the immunocompromised, it can form a primary focus in the lungs and then disseminate. It is often asymptomatic when localized to the lungs but can present as a cough or dyspnea. Dissemination to the brain presents as meningitis. Cryptococcal neoformans is the most common cause of fungal meningitis.

While C. neoformans most often presents as meningitis in the immunocompromised, a retrospective case analysis found diabetes mellitus II as a newly defined independent factor contributing to morbidity and mortality. This study analyzed cryptococcal infections in patients with DMII from 1997-2015. 57% of the DMII patients did not have any other underlying disease and 69% of patients who presented with pulmonary Cryptococcus neoformans experienced a misdiagnosis and treatment delays.1

Qualities that aid in the diagnosis include urease positivity, positive latex agglutination test due to its thick polysaccharide capsule, and characteristic features on mucicarmine red, methenamine silver, India ink, and Fontana-Masson stains.2

The Fontana-Masson silver (FMS) stain is a histochemical technique that oxidizes melanin and melanin-like pigments as it reduces silver.  FMS can be used to highlight the melanin-like pigment in Cryptococcus spp., including capsule-deficient variants because this pigment is cell-wall (and not capsule) associated. FMS is a very sensitive, but not completely specific stain, for Cryptococcus spp. as other yeasts and fungi can also produce melanin and melanin-like pigments.3 Though two C. neoformans yeast close together can resemble broad-based budding, Image 2 demonstrates the narrow-based budding.

While the India ink stain is often discussed as a popular stain for C. neoformans, it can only be performed on liquid samples (CSF, fluid samples) and cannot be performed on paraffin-embedded tissue samples. Of note, the India ink stain is a “negative stain”, resulting in the classic “halo” effect (image 3) because it is not picked up by the capsule of Cryptococcus spp. Because of this, it will miss capsule-deficient infections.4

Image 3. India Ink Stain showing “halo” effect of capsules.

Prognosis varies by the mechanism of immunosuppression. Acute mortality in in cryptococcal meningitis for HIV patients has improved dramatically with antifungals and ART, ranging from 6-16%. Poor prognostic indicators include abnormal mental status, a high yeast burden defined as CSF antigen titer > 1:1024 by latex agglutination or > 1:4000 by lateral flow assay, or a poor host response defined as CSF WBC count < 20/microL.5

Treatment of cryptococcal infections includes initial therapy with amphotericin B and flucytosine followed by long term fluconazole.6

References

  1. Boulware DR, Rolfes MA, Rajasingham R, von Hohenberg M, Qin Z, Taseera K, Schutz C, Kwizera R, Butler EK, Meintjes G, Muzoora C, Bischof JC, Meya DB. Multisite validation of cryptococcal antigen lateral flow assay and quantification by laser thermal contr. (n.d.).
  2. Li Y, Fang W, Jiang W, Hagen F, Liu J, Zhang L, Hong N, Zhu Y, Xu X, Lei X, Deng D, Xu J, Liao W, Boekhout T, Chen M, Pan W. Cryptococcosis in patients with diabetes mellitus II in mainland China: 1993-2015. Mycoses. 2017 Nov;60(11):706-713. doi: 10.1111/. (n.d.).
  3. McFadden, D., & Casadevall, A. (2001). Capsule and Melanin Synthesis in Cryptococcus neoformans. Medical Mycology, 39, 19-30.
  4. Perfect JR, Dismukes WE, Dromer F, Goldman DL, Graybill JR, Hamill RJ, Harrison TS, Larsen RA, Lortholary O, Nguyen MH, Pappas PG, Powderly WG, Singh N, Sobel JD, Sorrell TC. Clinical practice guidelines for the management of cryptococcal disease: 2010 up. (n.d.).
  5. Saag MS, Powderly WG, Cloud GA, Robinson P, Grieco MH, Sharkey PK, Thompson SE, Sugar AM, Tuazon CU, Fisher JF, et al. Comparison of amphotericin B with fluconazole in the treatment of acute AIDS-associated cryptococcal meningitis. The NIAID Mycoses Study. (n.d.).
  6. Winn, W. C., & Koneman, E. W. (2006). Koneman’s color atlas and textbook of diagnostic microbiology. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. (n.d.).

-Joe Teague is a Pathology Student Fellow and Brianna Waller, MD is a 3rd year Anatomic and Clinical Pathology Resident at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

-Christi Wojewoda, MD, is the Director of Clinical Microbiology at the University of Vermont Medical Center and an Associate Professor at the University of Vermont.

Microbiology Case Study: A 28 Year Old Woman with Fever and Rash

Case History

A 28 year old female presented to the emergency department (ED) with fevers, chills, and rash. A maculopapular rash began two days prior to her presentation starting at her shins, then spreading to her abdomen, chest, and arms. On presentation she had left knee and right elbow pain and had pain with walking. The patient denied neck pain, headache, blurry vision. Her past medical history is significant for bacterial meningitis between the ages of 10-12. She does not recall the causative pathogen but does recall that her mother had to quarantine for a period of time. On physical exam, the patient was in no distress, had a low-grade fever (38.2 °C) with normal heart rate and blood pressure. Her left knee and right knee were swollen, warm, and painful to the touch with limited range of motion. She was found to have round, erythematous papules and plaques, some with central purpura primarily involving both legs as well as the back and arms (Figure 1).

Initial labs showed a WBC of 11.24/L, Hgb 10.2 g/dL, platelets of 172/L. Her acute inflammatory marker was elevated (CRP 24.7 mg/dL) and her sed rate was 30 mm/hr. One of two blood cultures on admission grew Neisseria meningitides. She was initially started on vancomycin and piperacillin-tazobactam and later transitioned to ceftriaxone to complete a 7 day course. Further blood cultures remained sterile. Dermatology was consulted for her skin lesions and a biopsy of a thigh lesion revealed leukocytoclastic vasculitis. Orthopedic surgery was consulted given her left knee and right elbow swelling. X-ray revealed trace effusions in both joints. A tap of both joints was unsuccessful. The patient developed acute renal insufficiency secondary to acute tubular necrosis during her hospitalization, which improved prior to discharge. Her fevers resolved and the joint swelling and pain improved prior to discharge. She had off and on headaches during her hospitalization but denied neck pain/stiffness and never required a lumbar puncture. She was discharged on prophylactic amoxicillin.

Two months after discharge she was seen in immunology clinic at which time she was tested for humoral and complement immune deficiencies. Her total complement (CH50) was found to be low at 15 U/mL while C3 and C4 were normal, suggesting a terminal complement deficiency. Her humoral immunity panel was normal.

Discussion

Meningococcemia without meningitis occurs in 20-30% of patients with invasive meningococcal disease.1 This patient showed evidence of invasive disease with a maculopapular rash, joint involvement, and renal injury. However, her disease never reached the level of septicemia or disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) likely because she presented early enough in the course of her infection. A prior history of bacterial meningitidis raised suspicion for a terminal complement deficiency that was later confirmed by a low CH50. Patients with terminal compliment (C5-C9) deficiency are 1,400-10,000x more likely to develop meningococcal disease and 40-50% of these individuals can have recurrent infection.2 Deficiencies in other components of the complement pathway such as C3 and C4, especially in association with systemic lupus erythematous (SLE), and properdin (a promoter of the alternative complement pathway) can lead to invasive meningococcal disease.3 Patients with anatomic or functional asplenia and patients on eculizumab therapy are also at increased risk.4

Neisseria meningitidis is a gram negative diplococcus and is an obligate human pathogen that is also a common human commensal found in the nasopharynx of 3-25% of the population. Meningococcal disease most commonly manifests as meningitis (40-65%) and meningococcemia (20-30%) followed by pneumonia (10%), septic arthritis (2%), and chronic meningococcemia.1 The major virulence factor associated with meningococcal disease is a capsular polysaccharide, which are classified into 13 serogroups (A-L, W-135, X, Y, Z).5 Serogroups A, B, C, W-135, X, and Y are associated with invasive disease and prevalence of each serogroup is geographically varied. Diagnosis is by visualizing gram-negative diplococci on gram-stain (see Figure) from CSF or other sterile body fluid and by culture of these sterile body fluids. It is worth noting that intravenous antibiotics can sterilize meningococci in the CSF within 3-4 hours after administration.6 Transmission is by large respiratory droplets and direct contact from those with carriage or infection. Disease, especially among high-risk patients with complement deficiency, is preventable with the meningococcal conjugate vaccine. Chemoprophylaxis with rifampin, ceftriaxone, ciprofloxacin, or azithromycin is recommended for close contacts regardless of vaccination status.

Figure 1: Maculopapular rash with central purpura of both legs.

References

  1. Stephens, D., Neisseria meningitidis. 9th ed. Principles and Practices of Infectious Diseases, ed. J. Bennett. Vol. 2. 2015.
  2. Ram, S., L.A. Lewis, and P.A. Rice, Infections of people with complement deficiencies and patients who have undergone splenectomy. Clin Microbiol Rev, 2010. 23(4): p. 740-80.
  3. Fijen CA, K.E., te Bulte MT, Daha MR, Dankert J, Assessment of complement deficiency in patients with meningococcal disease in The Netherlands. Clin Infect Dis, 1999. 28(1): p. 98-105.
  4. Lebel, E., et al., Post-eculizumab meningococcaemia in vaccinated patients. Clin Microbiol Infect, 2018. 24(1): p. 89-90.
  5. Chang, Q., Y.L. Tzeng, and D.S. Stephens, Meningococcal disease: changes in epidemiology and prevention. Clin Epidemiol, 2012. 4: p. 237-45.
  6. Crosswell, J.M., W.R. Nicholson, and D.R. Lennon, Rapid sterilisation of cerebrospinal fluid in meningococcal meningitis: Implications for treatment duration. J Paediatr Child Health, 2006. 42(4): p. 170-3.

-Denver Niles is the Medical Microbiology fellow at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Prior to his Medical Microbiology fellowship, he completed pediatric infectious disease training at Baylor College of Medicine/Texas Children’s Hospital.

-Dominick Cavuoti is a professor of Pathology at UT Southwestern Medical Center who specializes in Medical Microbiology, ID Pathology and Cytology.

-Clare McCormick-Baw, MD, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Microbiology at UT Southwestern in Dallas, Texas. She has a passion for teaching about laboratory medicine in general and the best uses of the microbiology lab in particular.

Microbiology Case Study: A Female in her 60s with Retro-orbital Headaches

Case History

The patient was a previously healthy female who presented with a five day history of retro-orbital headaches, lightheadedness, and intermittent falls. Her presentation was consistent with meningitis and further studies were pursued. Head computed tomography (CT), CT angiogram of the head and neck, brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and electroencephalogram (EEG) were unremarkable. Analysis of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) demonstrated an elevated white blood cell count (605 white blood cells/µL) of which 88% were lymphocytes, 9% were monocytes, and 3% were neutrophils. CSF glucose was slightly decreased at 33 mg/dL and protein was elevated at 81 mg/dL. Additional tests requested on the CSF included herpes simplex virus (HSV), varicella zoster virus (VZV), West Nile virus (WNV), and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). The CSF was positive for HSV-2 and negative for HSV-1, VZV, and EBV by PCR. WNV IgG and IgM were negative. Of note, the patient had two episodes of viral meningitis in the past of unknown etiology. The patient received a one week course of valacyclovir and was discharged. Per the patient, she continues to have fluctuating headaches and occasional lightheadedness. Follow-up imaging has been unremarkable.

Figure1. Results of the HSV-1 and HSV-2 PCR. HSV-2 (green) and internal control (purple) amplified. HSV-1 (red) was not detected.

Discussion

Herpes simplex virus 1 and 2 (HSV-1 and HSV-2) are enveloped, double stranded DNA viruses that are members of the Herpesviridae family. They are common viruses that cause cold sores or fever blisters. HSV is a lifelong infection, and latent infection can cause reactivation. While both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can affect any area, HSV-1 is typically associated with non-genital sites whereas HSV-2 typically causes genital infections. In addition to herpetic gingivostomatitis, herpes labialis, and herpes genitalis, other associated clinical conditions include encephalitis, meningitis, keratitis, esophagitis, neonatal herpes, and disseminated primary infection. Most cases of HSV encephalitis have been linked to HSV-1 while HSV meningitis is typically caused by HSV-2. As seen in our patient, HSV-2 has been implicated in recurrent, aseptic, and self-limiting meningitis, also known as Mollaret meningitis.1 There are no specific treatment guidelines for HSV-2 meningitis with the main therapeutic strategy being symptom management. The utilization of acyclovir to manage uncomplicated HSV-2 management is controversial and there is no current consensus.2

Clinically, patients with meningitis typically present with acute onset of fever, headache, and neck stiffness. Other associated symptoms include malaise, rash, nausea, vomiting, sore throat, lymphadenopathy, and genitourinary symptoms. In order to differentiate between the infectious etiologies (i.e. viral, bacterial, tuberculous, or fungal) that cause meningitis, a lumbar puncture may be performed. For viral meningitis, CSF will usually show an elevated white count with predominantly mononuclear cells. The CSF:serum glucose ratio and protein levels are often elevated. The most common CSF viral pathogens in the non-immunosuppressed population are enteroviruses, HSV-1, HSV-2, and VZV, which can all be detected by real time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) technology Molecular methods are faster, more sensitive, and more widely available that viral culture.3 Antibody tests are not recommended for HSV as ~70% of adults will be positive for HSV-1 and ~20-50% of adults will be positive for HSV-2.4

Given the broad range of infectious etiologies that can cause meningitis, there has been interest in the development of a multiplex molecular test. Currently, the FilmArray meningitis/encephalitis panel is the only one that has received FDA clearance. This panel includes 14 bacterial, fungal, and viral targets, including HSV-1 and HSV-2. However, this panel should be used cautiously as several studies have shown a high proportion of false negatives in the detection of HSV-1, HSV-2, and Crytococcus neoformans/gattii. It has been suggested that for HSV-1 and HSV-2, the multiplex panel does not work as well if the viral load is near the limit of detection of the assay or if the patient is having a reactivation of HSV. If there is a high clinical suspicion, particularly in neonates and immunosuppressed patients, an assay for detection of only HSV-1 and HSV-2 should be performed.5

References

  1. Koelle DM and Corey L. (2008) Herpes simplex: insights on pathogenesis and possible vaccines. Annual Review of Medicine, 59: 381-395.
  2. Bamberger DM. (2010) Diagnosis, initial management, and prevention of meningitis. American Family Physician, 82: 1491-1498.
  3. Logan SAE and MacMahon E. (2008) Viral meningitis. The BMJ, 336: 36-40.
  4. Schiffer JT, Corey L. (2020) Herpes simplex virus. Bennett’s Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, 9th edition.
  5. Tansarli GS and Chapin KC. (2020) Diagnostic test accuracy of BioFire FilmArray meningitis/encephalitis panel: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Microbiology and Infection, 26: 281-290.

-Melissa Tjota, MD, PhD is a Molecular Genetic Pathology fellow at the University of Chicago Medicine and NorthShore University HealthSystem. She completed her MD/PhD (Immunology) and AP/CP residency at the University of Chicago.

-Paige M.K. Larkin, PhD, D(ABMM), M(ASCP)CM is the Director of Molecular Microbiology and Associate Director of Clinical Microbiology at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston, IL. Her interests include mycology, mycobacteriology, point-of-care testing, and molecular diagnostics, especially next generation sequencing.

Microbiology Case Study: A Middle Aged Man with a Non-Healing Ulcer

Case History

A middle-aged man with osteogenesis imperfecta, poorly controlled HIV, and hepatitis C presented for outpatient management of an infected non-pressure ulcer on his ankle. The patient had no history of recent travel and was current on vaccinations. He was afebrile but reported increasing difficulty with ambulation due to pain from the lesion. Per the patient, the wound began as an itchy “bug bite” two weeks prior, which he had scratched, causing skin breakage. The ulcer became progressively larger with corresponding increases in pain, warmth and swelling. Specimens from the ulcer were collected for culture, and the patient started empiric doxycycline in addition to prophylactic amoxicillin/clavulanate he was already taking for management of a pre-existing ulcer on the opposite foot. The non-healing wound progressed to the size of a nickel with worsening pain. Due to these symptoms and the associated microbiological data, the patient was instructed to present to the emergency department where he was admitted for additional evaluation. Upon admission, the ulcer exhibited no surrounding erythema, but a slight exudate and pitting edema was noted (Image 1). An X-ray of the ankle was obtained which revealed soft tissue swelling, but no fracture or crepitus.

Image 1. Photograph of the ulcerated lesion when seen at hospital admission.

Microbiology

Specimens of the ulcerated lesion were submitted to the microbiology laboratory for routine bacterial culture. No growth was observed on MacConkey agar plates, while two beta-hemolytic morphotypes and one non-hemolytic morphotype were observed on blood agar. The two beta-hemolytic species were identified as Streptococcus dysgalactiae and Arcanobacterium haemolyticum by MALDI-TOF MS. The third, non-hemolytic organism was a catalase-positive, gram positive coryneform rod (Image 2A and B), and was identified by MALDI-TOF MS as Corynebacterium diphtheriae. This identification was subsequently confirmed by both a commercial reference laboratory and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Image 2. Growth of the isolate of C. diphtheriae on a blood agar plate and associated Gram stain.  A) Non-hemolytic colonies observed after 24 hours incubation.  B) gram positive coryneform rods of C. diphtheriae.

Discussion

Corynebacterium diphtheriae is the etiological agent of diphtheria, a toxin-mediated disease classically associated with respiratory and cutaneous infections. C. diphtheriae is infrequently encountered in the United States due to a robust national vaccination program but remains endemic in other parts of the world. Respiratory manifestations include pharyngitis with dysphagia, lymphadenitis (often described as a “bull-neck” appearance), and the development of a characteristic white/grey pharyngeal pseudomembrane which can cause airway obstruction. The pathogenesis of C. diphtheriae is mediated by diphtheria toxin which inhibits host cell protein synthesis leading to cell death. Diphtheria toxin can also cause cardiac, nephrotic, and neurological sequalae due to dissemination. The diphtheria toxin gene (tox) is encoded on a bacteriophage which lysogenizes into the bacterial chromosome and is expressed in response to low iron concentrations. While C. diphtheriae is most frequently associated with diphtheria toxin production, Corynebacterium ulcerans and Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis can also express the toxin if infected with the bacteriophage.

Cutaneous C. diphtheriae infections manifest initially as a vesicle, eventually developing into a painful ulcerative lesion that may or may not have a pseudomembrane. These infections can be caused by either fully toxigenic strains, non-toxigenic strains lacking the tox gene, or non-toxigenic toxin gene bearing (NTTB) strains.1 NTTB strains are genotypically positive for the presence of the tox gene on the lysogenized phage, but do not express functional diphtheria toxin. This can be due to 1) mutation of truncation of the tox gene coding sequence, 2) promotor mutations, or 3) alterations in proteins regulating tox expression. NTTB strains are important from an epidemiological perspective in that they serve as an environmental reservoir for tox gene-harboring phage which could convert circulating non-toxigenic C. diphtheriae into toxin-producing organisms.1-3 This phenotype also presents additional diagnostic challenges as toxin gene expression must therefore be confirmed by more laborious phenotypic methods instead of genotypically (i.e. by PCR).

Recovery of C. diphtheriae in the routine setting is challenging as the organism morphologically resembles other coryneform rods usually representative of flora in cutaneous and respiratory specimens. While selective and differential medias are available (i.e. Cystine Tellurite Blood Agar or Tinsdale medium), they are not used routinely due to low incidence. As both toxigenic and non-toxigenic strains of C. diphtheriae circulate, this isolate was referred to the CDC’s Pertussis and Diphtheria laboratory for additional typing and toxin analysis. The organism was determined to belong to the mitis biotype and was positive for the tox gene by PCR. Toxin gene expression was then evaluated by the Elek Immunodiffusion test (Image 3). In this classical method, a filter paper strip saturated with anti-toxin is placed perpendicular to control and test strains of the organism on non-selective media. If the organism expresses diphtheria toxin, the toxin and the antisera form a complex and precipitate from solution. This phenomenon is visualized as precipitin lines in the agar after 24 hours of incubation at 37°C.4 Despite tox gene PCR-positivity, the Elek Immunodiffusion test revealed that this patient’s isolate did not express diphtheria toxin. Thus, this C. diphtheriae isolate was a representative example of a NTTB strain.

Image 3. Representation of the Elek Immunodiffusion assay for the detection of diphtheria toxin.  Filter paper soaked with antitoxin placed perpendicular to test and control isolates.  The presence of precipitin lines indicates diphtheria toxin gene expression.  Figure adapted from (3).

In contrast to respiratory presentations which have declined due to vaccination, cutaneous infections with C. diphtheriae have become more frequently recognized. Unlike respiratory diphtheria, cutaneous diphtheria was not reportable to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System until the clinical criteria changed in 2019. Since that time, toxigenic isolates recovered from either respiratory or cutaneous sources are reportable.5 Additionally, the incorporation of MALDI-TOF MS into routine workflow has facilitated identification of the organism when isolated clinically and likely increased reporting.

Although immunization protects against clinical diphtheria, it does not prevent colonization by non-toxigenic C. diphtheriae including NTTB strains.2,3 Non-toxigenic C. diphtheriae causing cutaneous infections are often recovered with other pyogenic organisms including Staphylococcus aureus, beta-hemolytic streptococci, and A. haemolyticum6 as was observed in this case. Risk factors for cutaneous infections include a compromised immune system, eczema, travel to endemic regions, intravenous drug use, homelessness/unsanitary living conditions, and alcoholism.3,7  It is unclear how this patient was exposed, although he did have risk factors including immunosuppression and those associated with his osteogenesis imperfecta. The patient was started on erythromycin and ampicillin/sulbactam for subsequent management and has continued to improve when seen at follow-up. Subsequent cultures of the wound have remained negative for C. diphtheriae.

  1. Zakikhany K, Neal S, Efstratiou A. 2014. Emergence and molecular characterisation of non-toxigenic tox gene-bearing Corynebacterium diphtheriae biovar mitis in the United Kingdom, 2003–2012. Eurosurveillance 19:20819.
  2. Doyle CJ, Mazins A, Graham RMA, Fang N-X, Smith HV, Jennison AV. 2017. Sequence Analysis of Toxin Gene-Bearing Corynebacterium diphtheriae Strains, Australia. Emerging infectious diseases 23:105-107.
  3. Sharma NC, Efstratiou A, Mokrousov I, Mutreja A, Das B, Ramamurthy T. 2019. Diphtheria. Nature Reviews Disease Primers 5:81.
  4. Kates O, Starr K, Bourassa L, Burnham C-AD. 2020. The Brief Case: Nontoxigenic Corynebacterium diphtheriae in a Nonhealing Wound. Journal of Clinical Microbiology 58:e00506-00520.
  5. United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2019. Diphtheria (Corynebacterium diphtheriae) 2019 Case Definition – National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System. https://ndc.services.cdc.gov/case-definitions/diphtheria-2019/. Accessed August 1st, 2021.
  6. Lowe CF, Bernard KA, Romney MG. 2011. Cutaneous Diphtheria in the Urban Poor Population of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: a 10-Year Review. Journal of Clinical Microbiology 49:2664-2666.
  7. Gubler J, Huber-Schneider C, Gruner E, Altwegg M. 1998. An Outbreak of Nontoxigenic Corynebacterium diphtheriae Infection: Single Bacterial Clone Causing Invasive Infection Among Swiss Drug Users. Clinical Infectious Diseases 27:1295-1298.

-Andrew Clark, PhD, D(ABMM) is an Assistant Professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center in the Department of Pathology, and Associate Director of the Clements University Hospital microbiology laboratory. He completed a CPEP-accredited postdoctoral fellowship in Medical and Public Health Microbiology at National Institutes of Health, and is interested in antimicrobial susceptibility and anaerobe pathophysiology.

Hematology Case Study: Presenting a Double Feature Starring Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia

One of the reasons I love working in Hematology is because when we have unexpected results they are often accompanied by visuals… and a picture is worth a thousand words! Unusual or critical results in Chemistry can be interesting, sometimes there are dilutions to perform, results to compare or puzzles to solve, I have always loved working up a good antibody or complicated multiple antibodies in Blood Bank or calculating how many units I may need to screen to find compatible ones, gram stains of unusual organisms in Microbiology can be exciting, but nothing beats some of the cells we see in Hematology! It’s always fascinating when we find unusual cells and follow up with smear reviews with our pathologists. And, being able to save these visuals in CellaVision or saving the slides for teaching, is a plus. These cases are a gift that keeps on giving! Lately I’ve had my share of “exciting” specimens, usually on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon! It never fails to get the adrenaline going when you are the first one to see a CBC with a WBC of 400,000, a differential that is over 90% blasts, rare lymphoma cells, malarial parasites, or a body fluid smear full of malignant cells. The following 2 cases are a very remarkable looking smear and a not so remarkable one, from 2 different patients with the same diagnosis.

The first patient is a 71 year old male who had a routine CBC done by his primary care physician. The blood was collected as an outpatient on a Saturday morning, and brought to our lab by a routine courier that afternoon (of course, right before change of shift!). We had one previous CBC result on this gentleman, from several years earlier, which was essentially normal. CBC result shown below:

Table 1. Case 1, CBC results. [Editor’s note: a previous version of this table noted a Hct of 231.8. The correct result is 31.8.]
Table 2. Case 1, Manual Differential results.
Image 1. Peripheral smear, Case 1, WBC 363.14.

As soon as I saw the results, I called the provider with the WBC and alerted them that I would be contacting the pathologist on call and calling back with the differential. Our pathologist confirmed blasts on the peripheral smear and requested that the sample be sent out for flow cytometry. The pathology report stated “Marked leukocytosis with left shift and <5% blasts. The presentation is suspicious for a myeloproliferative neoplasm (e.g. chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)). Immunophenotypic studies have been ordered and will be reported separately. Clinical correlation and Hematology consult recommended.” Flow cytometry results showed left shifted maturation and FISH studies demonstrated t(9;22) BCR-ABL with 98% of positive nuclei in bone marrow. No other mutations were detected. Diagnosis: chronic myelogenous leukemia. Five days later, we had a bone marrow scheduled on a 50 year old male. A CBC done 2 weeks earlier showed a mild leukocytosis and thrombocythemia. (WBC 12.4, Hgb 17.8, Hct 52%, PLT 539). Diagnoses under consideration were possible CML, polycythemia or a myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN). The patient’s CBC the day of the procedure is shown below.

Table 3. Case 2, CBC results.
Table 4. Case 2, Manual Differential results.

Cytogenetic analysis showed an abnormal clone characterized by the Philadelphia chromosome translocation, t(9;22). The BCR/ABL gene rearrangement was detected by FISH, with 78% of positive nuclei in bone marrow. The bone marrow was negative for other mutations. Flow cytometry analysis reported no evidence of abnormal myeloid maturation or increased blast production. There was no evidence for a lymphoproliferative disorder. Diagnosis: chronic myelogenous leukemia.

In 1959, at a time when techniques for preparing chromosomes for visualizing under the microscope were still very unsophisticated, 2 researchers in Philadelphia detected a tiny abnormality in the chromosomes of patients with CML. They noticed that part of chromosome 22 appeared to be missing. It was not until 1970, when techniques for chromosome banding became available, that this discovery was shown to be a translocation between chromosomes 22 and 9. The shortened chromosome 22 was named the Philadelphia (Ph) chromosome after the city where it was discovered.

Image 2. The Philadelphia chromosome. A piece of chromosome 9 and a piece of chromosome 22 break off and trade places (cancer.gov).

At diagnosis, over 90% of CML cases have the t(9;22) translocation which has become a hallmark for a diagnosis of CML. However, the Ph chromosome is also detected in about 30% of adult acute B cell lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL), and a very small number of acute myeloid leukemias (AML) and childhood B-ALL so testing must be done for differentiation. t(9;22) is a translocation of the proto-oncogene tyrosine-protein kinase ABL1 gene on chromosome 9 and the breakpoint cluster region BCR gene on chromosome 22. The newly formed chromosome 22 with the attached piece of chromosome 9 is called the Philadelphia chromosome. The BCR-ABL oncogene is formed on the Philadelphia chromosome and the product of the Ph translocation is an abnormal fusion protein, p210, which has increased tyrosine kinase activity. This, in turn, is responsible for the unregulated proliferation of cells seen in CML. Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) have been developed as targeted therapy for Ph+ CML.1

So, how can these 2 patients with very different CBC results both be diagnosed with CML? CML can be classified into phases of CML-chronic phase (CML-CP), accelerated phase (CML-AP), and blast crisis (CML-BP). The WHO Classification of 2017 proposed a system of cutoffs to define each phase. The phases are based mainly on the number of blasts in the blood or bone marrow. Progression from CML-CP to CML-AP is also generally recognized to correlate with an increase in BCR-ABL1 levels. Several studies have been done that discuss another phase, pre-leukemic (pre-clinical) CML. These pre-leukemic patients have the Philadelphia chromosome, the genetic hallmark of CML, without other abnormalities. They have a normal to mildly elevated WBC and are asymptomatic. In these cases, progression to CML-CP can be several months to several years. One interesting factor common in this phase, which can help in diagnosis, is the presence of an absolute basophilia (ABC) >200/mm3. This basophilia is also seen in CML-CP and often progresses with the disease.2

Results from both patients are compared below. While we may more readily recognize a new CML that presents with very high WBC, left shift, and blasts, FISH, flow and cytogenetics of both these patients indicated a diagnosis of CML. This second patient may be one that could be classified as a pre-CML. The patient is certainly fortunate to have physicians who suggested further workup so he can benefit from his early diagnosis.

Table 5. Comparison of results from 2 cases.

References

  1. Huma Amin*, Suhaib Ahmed. Characteristics of BCR–ABL gene variants in patients of chronic myeloid leukemia. Open Medicine, 2021.16:904-912.
  2. Aye, Le Le; Loghavi, Sanam; Young, Ken H et al. Preleukemic phase of chronic myelogenous leukemia: 2. morphologic and immunohistochemical characterization of 7 cases Annals of Diagnostic Pathology. April 2016 21:53-58 Language: English. DOI: 10.1016/j.anndiagpath.2015.12.004.
  3. Kuan JW, Su AT, Leong CF, Osato M, Sashida G. Systematic review of pre-clinical chronic myeloid leukaemia. Int J Hematol. 2018 Nov;108(5):465-484. doi: 10.1007/s12185-018-2528-x. Epub 2018 Sep 14. Erratum in: Int J Hematol. 2018 Nov 7;: PMID: 30218276.
  4. https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/philadelphia-chromosome
Socha-small

-Becky Socha, MS, MLS(ASCP)CMBBCM graduated from Merrimack College in N. Andover, Massachusetts with a BS in Medical Technology and completed her MS in Clinical Laboratory Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. She has worked as a Medical Technologist for over 40 years and has taught as an adjunct faculty member at Merrimack College, UMass Lowell and Stevenson University for over 20 years.  She has worked in all areas of the clinical laboratory, but has a special interest in Hematology and Blood Banking. She currently works at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Md. When she’s not busy being a mad scientist, she can be found outside riding her bicycle.

Just A Little Too Much – Unrelated Cluster of Brucella Positive Cases in a Community Hospital

A 65 year old, patient 1, who did not have a travel history outside the United States, presented at the ED for hematuria, left upper quadrant pain, generalized weakness, and a fever of 100°F. He was admitted for suspected viral illness causing idiopathic thrombocytopenia and acute cholecystitis. However, CT scan and RUQ ultrasound upon admission was negative for cholecysitits. His AST and ALT were elevated. Blood parasite smears were ordered to rule out Babesia, which were negative. HIV and Ehrlichia antibodies were also negative. Blood cultures (BC) were also drawn on hospital day (HD) 1.

His BC became positive 3 days after incubation, with the initial Gram stain showing tiny gram negative coccobacilli (Figure 1). FilmArray Blood culture Identification panel-2 (BCID-2) returned negative. BC broth was sub-cultured to Blood, chocolate, and MacConkey agar plates and a haze of growth was observed on the BAP (Figure 2) and Choc plates after 48 hours of incubation. No growth on MAC. Our laboratory could not rule out Brucella or Burkholderia after a battery of biochemical tests (oxidase: strong positive, catalase positive, no satellite growth, nitrite positive) performed in BSL3. The isolate was then referred to the state department of health (DOH), which provided a final identification of Brucella suis. The history revealed that he ate raw beef and sushi a week before his symptoms appeared.

One week after patient 1 admission, a 50 year old male (patient 2) presented to ED with 2 weeks of unexplained fever, chills, headache and occasional vomiting. Blood cultures were drawn prior to admission. Malaria screening was also performed due to his recent travel history of South Eastern Africa. Patient 3, a 36 year old female also presented with similar symptoms 2 days after patient 2 was admitted. However, Patient 3 had a recent travel to Eastern Africa. Her blood cultures were also drawn. In both patients, HIV Ag/Ab screening, malaria, Babesia, Erhlichia PCR, and Quantiferon were negative. Liver panels were also performed on both patient 2 and 3. Both ALT and AST were elevated, which is a common theme in all three patients. Both patients 2 and 3 drank unpasteurized camel milk during their trips. Similar to patient 1, the blood cultures of patient 2 and 3 became positive three days after incubation. Since the growth pattern and Gram stain characteristics of blood bottle subcultures was similar to that of patient 1, the isolates were sent to the DOH as soon as a haze of growth appeared on the media. Both isolates were identified as Brucella melitensis.

Discussion

Brucella spp. are facultative, small gram negative coccobacilli and tend to appear as clusters on the Gram stain. Brucella melitensis is the most common cause of human infection followed by B. suis and B. abortus although the latter two can be more prevalent in certain geographical regions. B. canis infection in human is rare. Brucellosis is a zoonotic disease. Most industrialized countries, with effective public health measures, have managed to control the infection. According to 2019 report by CDC, 165 cases of Brucellosis were reported in the United States. Brucella infections in certain parts of the world are particularly associated with drinking raw unpasteurized goat or camel milk.

Brucellosis symptoms appear between 1-4 weeks after exposure. Clinical presentations of Brucellosis are often nonspecific and can mimic malaria or typhoid fever in those returning from the endemic areas; therefore, Brucellosis is considered “the disease of mistakes.” One of the organ systems commonly affected in Brucellosis is liver, with the manifestation of acute liver failure and unexplained thrombocytopenia. Approximately 25 to 35 percent of Brucellosis patients have high AST and ALT associated with low platelet levels. A similar profile was observed in our patients presented here.

While person-to-person transmission is rare, Brucella is the most common laboratory acquired infection (LAI). LAI occurs via aerosolization of Brucellae upon manipulation of isolates on open benches. Manipulation includes picking colonies for rapid biochemical tests, MALDI-ToF, or susceptibility testing on an open bench. Notable LAI’s due to Brucella are reported by New York State Department of Health in 2015-2017, when more than 200 cases of laboratory workers were exposed. Because the infectious dose for Brucella is extremely low (5CFU/mL), it is considered a highly pathogenic category B Bioterrorism agent. LAI can be prevented if clinicians notify the clinical laboratory of suspicious Brucella cases when samples are sent for cultures.

Most laboratories today utilize rapid molecular blood culture panels for initial identification of positive blood cultures. Microbiology laboratories should implement a bio-alert “rule out or refer” protocol to minimize exposure when 1) rapid molecular blood culture identification multiplex panels fail to detect any organisms; 2) prolonged incubation time (blood culture bottles and subculture media) in most cases; 3) atypical Gram stain characteristics (small coccobacilli that typically tend to cluster in positive blood cultures and sometimes appear as gram variable); and 4) growth only on blood and chocolate, but not on MacConkey agar.

Identification of Brucella by MALDI-ToF or any commercial methods in sentinel laboratories is highly prohibited. Biochemical tests must be performed in a biosafety cabinet to rule out potential biothreat agents. In most cases, MALDI-ToF systems can misidentify select bioagents. One salient example was a case report by the Yale University Clinical Microbiology Laboratory, where Brucella was misidentified as Ochrobactrum anthropi by Vitek MS.

Because of a diverse range of clinical symptoms, definitive diagnosis of Brucellosis is mainly achieved by laboratory findings by means of serology or isolation of organisms in culture. Serologic diagnosis requires two serum samples – the first sample taken during the acute phase of illness and the latter should be taken 2-4 weeks. A rise in antibodies of four fold or higher is considered positive Brucellosis. The Laboratory Reference Network and Center for Disease Control (CDC) can perform Brucella microagglutination test (BMAT) for B. melitensis, B. suis, and B. abortus. American Society of Microbiology (ASM), Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL), and Laboratory Response Network (LRN) have diagnostic protocols and guidelines for ruling out or refer potential Brucella from culture isolation.

Figure 1. Small clusters of gram negative coccobacilli from patient 1’s positive blood culture.
Figure 2. 48 hour old slow growing Brucella on Blood Agar Plate (Image courtesy: BioThreat agent bench cards for Sentinel Laboratory by Texas Department of State Health Services).

References

  1. Kazak E, Akalın H, Yılmaz E, Heper Y, Mıstık R, Sınırtaş M, Özakın C, Göral G, Helvacı S. Brucellosis: a retrospective evaluation of 164 cases. Singapore Med J. 2016 Nov;57(11):624-629. doi: 10.11622/smedj.2015163. Epub 2015 Nov 13. PMID: 26768063; PMCID: PMC5331138.
  2. Ackelsberg J, Liddicoat A, Burke T, Szymczak WA, Levi MH, Ostrowsky B, Hamula C, Patel G, Kopetz V, Saverimuttu J, Sordillo EM, D’Souza D, Mitchell EA, Lowe W, Khare R, Tang YW, Bianchi AL, Egan C, Perry MJ, Hughes S, Rakeman JL, Adams E, Kharod GA, Tiller R, Saile E, Lee S, Gonzalez E, Hoppe B, Leviton IM, Hacker S, Ni KF, Orsini RL, Jhaveri S, Mazariegos I, Dingle T, Koll B, Stoddard RA, Galloway R, Hoffmaster A, Fine A, Lee E, Dentinger C, Harrison E, Layton M. BrucellaExposure Risk Events in 10 Clinical Laboratories, New York City, USA, 2015 to 2017. J Clin Microbiol. 2020 Jan 28;58(2):e01096-19. doi: 10.1128/JCM.01096-19. PMID: 31694974; PMCID: PMC6989065.
  3. Manual of Clinical Microbiology. 11th edition. 2018.
  4. Poonawala H, Marrs Conner T, Peaper DR. The Brief Case: Misidentification of Brucella melitensis as Ochrobactrum anthropi by Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization-Time of Flight Mass Spectrometry (MALDI-TOF MS). J Clin Microbiol. 2018 May 25;56(6):e00914-17. doi: 10.1128/JCM.00914-17. PMID: 29802238; PMCID: PMC5971538.
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/brucellosis/exposure/areas.html

-Phyu M. Thwe, Ph.D., D(ABMM), MLS(ASCP)CM is Microbiology Technical Director at Allina Health Laboratory in Minneapolis, MN. She completed her CPEP microbiology fellowship at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, TX. Her interest includes appropriate test utilization and extra-pulmonary tuberculosis.