Lower respiratory tract infection (LRTI) is a well recognised complication of artificial ventilation in intensive care units (ICU). Ideally, specimens for microbiological analysis should be obtained during bronchoscopy, but this is not always possible. Therefore, the microbiological diagnosis of lower respiratory tract infection by broncho-alveolar lavage (BAL) obtained during bronchoscopy was compared with catheter lavage (CL) with a balloon-tipped catheter. Adult patients with clinical evidence of lower respiratory tract infection in an adult ICU were randomly assigned to undergo BAL followed by CL or . Forty ml of normal saline 0.9% were instilled and then aspirated with a flexible bronchoscope to obtain BAL. A similar volume was instilled and aspirated with a 12-gauge Foley balloon-tipped catheter to obtain a CL sample. The number of inflammatory cells, epithelial cells and organisms seen by microscopy were quantified. Culture results were semi-quantified and classified as negative, positive, equivocal or contaminated. Seventy-nine paired specimens were obtained from 66 patients, including specimens from 10 patients taken on two or more occasions. Only 20% of BAL and 16% of CL had one or more epithelial cells and bacteria were seen in 26 BAL and 21 CL specimens, respectively; 35% of BAL and CL specimens were positive and there was a discrepancy in the culture result in only two cases. was the pathogen isolated most frequently and polymicrobial lower respiratory infection was diagnosed on 10 occasions (15%). CL fluid is as reliable as BAL in diagnosing lower respiratory tract infection in ICU. This approach does not require bronchoscopic expertise and utilises convenient laboratory techniques.


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