Analysis of “emerging” pathogens in cystic fibrosis (CF) lung disease has focused on unique pathogens that are rare in other human diseases or are drug resistant. Escherichia coli is recovered in the sputum of up to 25% of patients with CF, yet little is known about the epidemiology or clinical impact of infection.
We studied patients attending a Canadian adult CF clinic who had positive sputum cultures for E coli from 1978 to 2016. Infection was categorized as transient or persistent (≥3 positive sputum cultures, spanning >6 months). Those with persistent infection were matched 2:1 with age, sex, and time-period controls without history of E coli infection, and mixed-effects models were used to assess pulmonary exacerbation (PEx) frequency, lung function decline, hospitalization, and intravenous antibiotic days.
Forty-five patients (12.3%) had E coli recovered from sputum samples between 1978 and 2016, and 18 patients (40%) developed persistent infection. Nine patients (24%) had PEx at incident infection, and increased bioburden was predictive of exacerbation (P = .03). Risk factors for persistent infection included lower nutritional status (P < .001) and lower lung function (P = .009), but chronic infection with Pseudomonas aeruginosa was protective. There was no difference in annual lung function decline, need for hospitalization or intravenous antibiotics, or risk of PEx in patients with persistent infection.
Persistent E coli infection was frequent and was more common in CF patients with low nutritional status and lung function. However, this does not predict clinical decline. Multicenter studies would allow better characterization of the epidemiology and clinical impact of E coli infection.