Prototheca is an emerging, opportunistic, pathogenic, zoonotic achlorophyllous green alga, expanding in pathogenicity and host range, causing localized and disseminated infections. This outbreak of Prototheca wickerhamii algaemia and sepsis in a tertiary care 30-bedded chemotherapy oncology unit is the first human outbreak to the best of our knowledge.
Prototheca wickerhamii algaemia was confirmed on consecutive isolation. Person to person transmission was hypothesized considering all patients in the unit at risk. Clinico-demographic, diagnostic and treatment profile were correlated. Both manual and automated systems were used for blood culture, isolation, identification and susceptibility of Prototheca. Liposomal amphotericin B was given. Outbreak surveillance of faeces, fingertips and environmental reservoirs, retrospective surveillance during past 15 years and prospective surveillance was continued for two years.
The outbreak affected 12 neutropenic patients over 50 days. No specific clinical features were noted. The hypothesis could not be substantiated. P. wickerhamii was isolated as yeast-like colonies revealing Gram positive yeast-like cells without budding and pseudohyphae which were confirmed by automated system. Post amphotericin B blood cultures were negative for Prototheca. Surveillance studies were not contributory.
Prototheca wickerhamii has no documented reservoirs or transmission. Endogenous colonization in the gut followed by translocation during chemotherapy induced immunosuppression is likely to cause algaemia and sepsis. Outbreaks are difficult to detect and control as incubation period is variable and clinical presentation is muted, emphasizing the need to strengthen hospital and laboratory based surveillance systems to ensure adequate preparedness, rapid detection and response to outbreaks.
I. D. Khan, None