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Species distribution and in vitro antifungal susceptibility pattern of oral Candida isolates in HIV patients and correlation with CD4 count.

INTRODUCTION: Infection with Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and its end stage Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is the major public challenge of modern times, with over 25 million persons already dead and over 30 million living with HIV/AIDS, the majority of whom are without access to therapy [1]. Opportunistic infection continue to cause morbidity and mortality in patients with human immunodeficiency virus infection throughout the world [2].

Oropharyngeal candidiasis (OPC) is the most common opportunistic infection observed in AIDS patients, occurring in an estimated 80 to 95% of these patients when the CD4 T lymphocyte counts are below 200 cells/[mm.sup.3]. Increased retroviral replication and an associated decline in immune defenses render these patients more susceptible to oropharyngeal candidiasis [3,4,5]. Although the introduction of antiretroviral therapy has had a major impact on the infectious complications of AIDS, candidiasis still remains a common opportunistic infection in HIV infected patients [6]. OPC is considered as one of the earliest indicator of HIV infection and is relatively reliable indicator marker of disease progression. Regardless of the CD4 count, OPC is predictive for the development of AIDS related illnesses if left untreated [7]. Candida albicans is the most common species of yeast isolated from patients with OPC. The incidence of opportunistic infection due to C. albicans and other species has been increasing [8].

Antifungal drug resistance is fast becoming a major problem. Azole resistance is frequently described in patients with AIDS and mucosal candidiasis, oral candidiasis, or deep-seated candidiasis. Oropharyngeal colonization with Candida species was found in as many as 84% of patients infected with HIV, and symptomatic oral disease was found in up to 46% of these patients [9]. The high incidence of mucosal and deep seated forms of candidiasis has resulted in the use of systemic antifungal agents, especially fluconazole and itraconazole [10]. Many of these patients require long-term treatment to suppress oropharyngeal candidiasis. The widespread use of these antifungal agents have been followed by an increase in antifungal resistance and by a noticeable shift toward non albicans species with relative resistance to fluconazole and itraconazole [11] and there have been reports of emergence of resistance to antifungal agents in HIV/AIDS patients with OPC [12]. The increased reports of antifungal resistance and expanding drug therapy options prompted the need for clinically relevant antifungal susceptibility testing. Further the emergence of other Candida species such as Candida krusei and Candida glabrata with innately reduced susceptibilities to fluconazole [13] also results in treatment failure, emphasizing the need for speciation of the oral yeast isolates.

Considering the above facts, the present study was conducted to determine the species distribution and antifungal susceptibility profiles of the Candida isolates from HIV patients with Oropharyngeal Candidiasis.

MATERIAL AND METHODS: The present study was carried out at the Madras Medical College and Government General Hospital, Chennai. The study was reviewed and approved by the Institutional Ethical Committee. A total of 150 HIV positive patients presenting with clinical picture of oral candidiasis attending the ART center from June 2008-May 2009 were included in the study after getting informed written consent. Blood was collected in EDTA vacutainer tubes from each patients for enumeration of their CD4 count using BD Fluorescent Activated Cell Sorter (FACS) Counter.

Oropharyngeal specimens were collected by firmly swabbing the lesion site with two sterile cotton swabs under strict aseptic precautions. Specimens collected were subjected to standard mycological procedures. One swab was used for the direct microscopic examination by Gram stain and and observed for the presence of gram positive budding yeast cells with or without pseudohyphae. Second swab was inoculated immediately into the Sabourauds Dextrose Agar (SDA) plates supplemented with antibiotics and incubated at 28[degrees]C and 37[degrees]C for 48-72 hours. Isolates were identified by colony morphology on SDA plates. The microscopic morphology of the colony on Gram stain was noted. Colonies that showed Gram positive budding yeast cells on Gram staining was further processed.

All the Candida isolates thus obtained were identified and speciated based on colony morphology, germ tube production, colony colour on HiCrom agar, chlamydospore production on corn meal agar (Dalmau plate technique), growth at 45[degrees]C, carbohydrate fermentation and carbohydrate assimilation pattern.

Antifungal susceptibility test for the Candida isolates was done by Microbroth dilution method, as per the guidelines of Clinical and Laboratory Standard Institutes (CLSI) on antifungal Susceptibility testing [14]. RPMI 1640 medium with glutamine, without bicarbonate in MOPS (3-N-Morpholino propane sulfonic acid), buffer sterilized by membrane filtration was used as test medium.

The inoculum suspension was prepared by picking five colonies of 1mm diameter from a 24 hour old culture and suspended in 5ml sterile 0.85% NaCl. The turbidity of the cell suspension was adjusted to 85% transmittance at 530nm using a spectrophotometer by adding sterile 0.85% NaCl as necessary. The stock suspension (1 x [10.sup.6] to 5 x [10.sup.6] yeast cells/ml) prepared was further diluted in RPMI medium to achieve the final desired inoculums size containing 0.5 x [10.sup.3] to 2.5 x [10.sup.3]/ml.

Serial twofold dilutions and final dilutions of each antifungal agent were prepared in RPMI 1640 medium. The Minimum Inhibitory Concentration (MIC) range of antifungal agents used were Fluconazole: 64-0.125 [micro]g/ml and Itraconazole 16-0.031 [micro]g/ml. Fluconazole was dissolved in sterile distilled water whereas itraconazole was dissolved in DMSO (Dimethyl sulfoxide). Aliquots of 100 [micro]l of each antifungal agent at a concentration two times the targeted final concentration were dispensed in the wells of flat bottom 96-well microtiter plates. A constant volume (100 [micro]l) of the inoculum was added to each microdilution well containing 100 [micro]l of the serial dilution of the antifungal agents to reach final concentrations. The microtiter plates were incubated at 37[degrees]C for 48 hours.

The MICs of the fluconazole and itraconazole were defined as the lowest concentrations that inhibit growth by 50%. The MIC values for fluconazole and itraconazole were compared to the CLSI interpretative guidelines on antifungal susceptibility testing (Table-1). C. parapsilosis (ATCC 22019) and C. krusei (ATCC 6258) were used as controls for each test.

Statistical analysis were carried out using statistical package for Social sciences and Epi-software by statistician. The proportional data of this cross sectional study were tested using Pearson's Chi Square Analysis test and Binomial Proportion test.

RESULTS: In the present study, out of 150 patients with oral candidiasis, 102 (68%) were enrolled in this study during their first episode and the remaining 48 (32%) patients presented with recurrent candidiasis. Majority of the patients with recurrent candidiasis had a history of only one previous episode of oral candidiasis. Majority of the study population were within the age group of 29-39 years with a male preponderance.

Candida was isolated from all the 150 patients (100%). As two patients harboured a mixture of two species, the total number of isolates were 152. Candida albicans was the most frequently isolated species 118 (77.6%) and the remaining were non-albicans species 34 (22.4%), with the frequency of C. tropicalis 17 (11.2%), C. krusei 8 (5.3%), C. parapsilosis 6 (3.9%), C. glabrata 2 (1.3%), C. guilliermondii 1 (0.7%). (Table-2)

Antifungal susceptibility testing of the Candida isolates revealed that about 121 isolates were susceptible, 13 were susceptible dose dependent, and 18 were resistant to fluconazole. One hundred and sixteen isolates were susceptible, 13 were susceptible dose dependent and 23 were resistant to itraconazole. (Table-3).

5.1% of the Candida albicans, 23.5% of the C. tropicalis, 87.5% of the C. krusei and 50% of the C. glabrata isolates showed MIC in the resistant range of >64 [micro]g/ml for fluconazole. 10.2% of the Candida albicans, 35.3% of the C. tropicalis, 16.7% of C. parapsilosis, 37.% of the C. krusei and 50% of the Candida glabrata showed MIC in the resistant range of [greater than or equal to]1[micro]g/ml for itraconazole (Table-4).

With reference to the immune status of the HIV patients with Candidiasis, 106 (70.7%) patients had CD4 count <200 Cells/[micro]l and the remaining 44 (29.3%) had CD4 count >200 Cells/[micro]l. There was a strong negative correlation between low CD4 count and oral candidiasis. (Table-5)

70.1% of the Candida albicans and 76.4% of the non albicans Candida sp. were isolated from the patients with CD4 count <200 cells/[micro]l. Among the 34 non albicans isolates, 11 (32.2%) fluconazole resistant isolates were seen in patients with CD4 <200 cell/[micro]l and 1 (2.9%) fluconazole resistant isolate was seen in patients with CD4 >200 cells/[micro]l. Among the 118 Candida albicans isolates, 5 (4.1%) were seen in patients CD4 <200 cells/[micro]l and 1 (2.9%) fluconazole resistant isolate was seen in patients with CD4 >200 cells/[micro]l. (Table-6)

DISCUSSION: Oral Candidiasis is the most common fungal infection in HIV infected patients and has been identified as a clinical predictor for progression to AIDS [15]. In the recent past, studies shows an increasing incidence of non-albicans Candida species in Oral Candidiasis and increasing rates of antifungal drug resistance particularly with the immunocompromised patients. Rapid identification of candidiasis is important for the clinical management of immunocompromised patients.

In the current study, Candida was isolated from all the 150 patients. Various studies have shown the isolation rate of Candida ranging from 61-100 per cent in HIV infected individuals with oral candidiasis [16]. Species identification revealed that Candida albicans was the most frequently isolated species and among the non-albicans Candida spp, C. tropicalis was the most common species, a finding similar to other studies [17,18]. C. dubliniensis was not isolated in this study. The evolving importance of non-albicans Candida spp. in HIV patients with oral candidiasis requires incorporation of standard techniques for Candida speciation.

Azoles are considered the drug of choice for treating oral candidiasis associated with HIV/ AIDS patients [19]. Fluconazole is a triazole agent that has been widely used for the treatment of mucosal candidiasis because of its low toxicity and ease of administration [20].Several recent studies have reported fluconazole resistance in Candida strains isolated from HIV infected patients with oropharyngeal candidiasis. In the present study, 79.6% of the isolates were susceptible, 8.6% were SDD and 11.8% were resistant to fluconazole. This result is similar to that reported by other Studies [17,21,22].

Itraconazole is used as an alternative to fluconazole for treating oral candidiasis.In this study 76.3% of the isolates were susceptible, 8.6% were SDD and 15.1% were resistant to itraconazole. C. tropicalis, C. glabrata and C. krusei accounted for more than half of azole resistance. Although C. krusei had a low prevalence, its intrinsic resistant activity against fluconazole may have therapeutic implications. Species other than C. albicans are generally less susceptible to therapy and arise mainly with low CD4 count and after repeated or prolonged antifungal treatment. This can be considered important since infections caused by C. albicans generally have the best prognosis in comparison to those caused by non-albicans species. C. glabrata and C. krusei remain the least susceptible species to fluconazole and because of cross resistance between azole drugs, they have high MICs to other azoles. [22,23] The widespread use of fluconazole and itraconazole as therapeutic or prophylactic doses has increased recently and most often associated with the HIV infected with OPC. This has lead to the increase of reports of resistance [24].

Several authors have reported that apart from prolonged exposure, advanced immunosuppression is a major risk factor for azole resistance [16].In the present study, among the 150 HIV patients with oropharyngeal candidiasis, 70.7% had CD4 count <200 cells/[mm.sup.3] which was statistically significant by proportional test (p = <0.001) This correlated well with the study conducted by Usha et al [17] where 76.66% patients with oropharyngeal candidiasis had CD4 count <200 cells/[micro]l. Oral candidiasis can be used as a marker of immune status in field based settings where CD4 Count and viral RNA load estimation cannot be routinely done.

CONCLUSION: In conclusion, Candida albicans is the most frequently isolated species from HIV seropositive patients with oral Candidiasis. Non-albicans Candida species are emerging as important pathogens with increasing rates of azole resistance and with increased immunosuppression. The significant relationship of oral candidiasis with severe immunosuppression suggests that when oral candidiasis is present it can be used as a surrogate marker for CD4 depletion. Since oral candidiasis may serve as an early marker of immunosuppression in HIV patients, regular oral examination of these patients may help us to monitor the disease progression.. Further the increasing rates of resistance particularly among the non-albicans Candida spp. emphasizes the need for speciation and determination of antifungal susceptibility pattern of the oral candida isolates from HIV patients with oropharyngeal candidiasis.


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(1.) Kalpana Devi V.

(2.) Geetha Lakshmi S.


(1.) Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology, A.C.S. Medical College & Hospital, Velappanchavadi, Chennai.

(2.) Dean, Professor, Department of Microbiology, Stanley Medical College and Hospital, Chennai.


Dr. Kalpana Devi V, No. 5/75, Kasi Avenue, R.R. Nagar, 3rd Street Annexe, Ayyapanthangal, Chennai--600 056.

Date of Submission: 14/11/2013.

Date of Peer Review: 15/11/2013.

Date of Acceptance: 20/11/2013.

Date of Publishing: 23/11/2013
TABLE--1: Interpretive Guidelines for In Vitro
Susceptibility Testing of Candida species

                 Susceptible     Susceptible      Resistant

Fluconazole      [less than         16-32       [greater than
               or equal to] 8    [micro]g/ml   or equal to] 64
                 [micro]g/ml                     [micro]g/ml
Itraconazole    [less than or     0.25-0.5      [greater than
               equal to] 0.125   [micro]g/ml   or equal to] 1
                 [micro]g/ml                     [micro]g/ml


Species                   Total no    Percentage

Candida albicans             118         77.6
Candida tropicalis           17          11.2
Candida krusei                8           5.3
Candida parapsilosis          6           3.9
Candida glabrata              2           1.3
Candida guilliermondii        1           0.7
Total                        152          100


               Susceptible    SDD       Resistant

                N     %     N     %    N     %

Fluconazole    121   79.6   13   8.6   18   11.8
Itraconazole   116   76.3   13   8.6   23   15.1


                  No of isolates   Fluconazole by broth dilution

Species                            Susceptible   SDD   Resistant

                                        n         n        n

C.albicans             118             103        9        6
C.tropicalis            17             11         2        4
C.parapsilosis          6               6        --       --
C.Krusei                8              --         1        7
C.glabrata              2              --         1        1
C.guilliermondi         1               1        --       --
Total                  152             121       13       18

                  Itraconazole by broth dilution

Species           Susceptible   SDD   Resistant

                       n         n        n

C.albicans            99         7       12
C.tropicalis          08         3        6
C.parapsilosis         5        --        1
C.Krusei               3         2        3
C.glabrata            --         1        1
C.guilliermondi        1        --       --
Total                 116       13       23


CD4 Cells/[micro]l   No of Patients   Percent

<50                        23          15.3
51-200                     83          55.4
201-350                    30           20
351-500                    12            8
>500                       2            1.3
Total                     150           100


CD4 cells/[micro]l   Candida albicans (n = 118)

                     No of Resistant    Percentage of isolates
                     isolates n = 6    resistant to fluconazole

<50                        03                   2.5 %
51-200                     02                   1.6 %
201-350                    01                   0.8 %
351-500                    --                     --
>500                       --                     --

CD4 cells/[micro]l   Non albicans (n = 34)

                     No of Resistant    Percentage of isolates
                     isolates n = 12   resistant to fluconazole

<50                        02                   05.8 %
51-200                     09                   26.4 %
201-350                    01                   02.9 %
351-500                    --                     --
>500                       --                     --
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Author:Kalpana, Devi V.; Geetha, Lakshmi S.
Publication:Journal of Evolution of Medical and Dental Sciences
Article Type:Clinical report
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Nov 25, 2013
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