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Prepandemic viral community-acquired pneumonia: diagnostic sensitivity and specificity of nasopharyngeal swabs and performance of clinical severity scores

Objectives: To assess the diagnostic sensitivity and specificity of nasopharyngeal (NP) swabs for viral community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) and the performance of Pneumonia Severity Index (PSI) and CURB-65 severity scores in the viral CAP in adults.

Methods: A prospective observational cohort study of consecutive 341 hospitalized adults with CAP was performed between January 2018 to March 2020. Demographics, comorbidities, symptoms/signs, analytical data, severity scores, antimicrobials, and outcomes were recorded. Blood, NP swabs, sputum and urine samples were collected at admission and assayed by multiplex real time-PCR, bacterial cultures, and Streptococcus pneumoniae and Legionella pneumophila antigens detection, to determine the etiologies and quantify the viral load.

Results: The etiology was identified in 174 (51.0%) patients, and in 85 (24.9%) it was viral, the most frequent rhinovirus and influenza virus. The sensitivity of viral detection in sputum (50.7%) was higher than in NP swabs (20.9%). Compared with sputum, the positive predictive value and specificity of NP swabs for viral diagnosis were 95.8% and 96.9%, respectively. Performance of PSI and CURB-65 scores in all CAP with etiologic diagnosis were as expected, with mortality associated with higher values, but they were not associated with mortality in patients with viral pneumonia.

Conclusions: NP swabs have lower sensitivity but high specificity for the diagnosis of viral CAP in adults compared with sputum, reinforcing the use NP swabs for the diagnostic etiology work-up. The PSI and CURB-65 scores did not predict mortality in the viral CAP, suggesting that they need to be updated scores based on the identification of the etiological agent. 


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