Mycological culture is the traditional method for identifying infecting agents of onychomycosis despite high false-negative results, slower processing, and complications surrounding nondermatophyte mold (NDM) infections. Molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) methods are faster and suited for ascertaining NDM infections.
To measure agreement between culture and PCR methods for identification of infecting species of suspected onychomycosis, single toenail samples from 167 patients and repeated serial samples from 43 patients with suspected onychomycosis were processed by culture and PCR for identification of 16 dermatophytes and five NDMs. Agreement between methods was quantified using the kappa statistic (κ).
The methods exhibited fair agreement for the identification of all infecting organisms (single samples: κ = 0.32; repeated samples: κ = 0.38). For dermatophytes, agreement was moderate (single samples: κ = 0.44; repeated samples: κ = 0.42). For NDMs, agreement was poor with single samples (κ = 0.16) but fair with repeated samples (κ = 0.25). Excluding false-negative reports from analyses improved agreement between methods in all cases except the identification of NDMs from single samples.
Culture was three or four times more likely to report a false-negative result compared with PCR. The increased agreement between methods observed by excluding false-negative reports statistically clarifies and highlights the major discord caused by false-negative cultures. The increased agreement of NDM identification from poor to fair with repeated sampling along with their poor agreement in the single samples, with and without false-negatives, affirms the complications of NDM identification and supports the recommendation that serial samples help confirm the diagnosis of NDM infections.
Reports of mixed infections with nondermatophyte molds (NDMs) and dermatophytes in onychomycosis are rare, possibly owing to the inhibition of NDM growth during traditional culture. We sought to determine the prevalence of mixed infections in onychomycosis using molecular identification.
Molecular analyses were used to identify infecting organisms directly from at least two serial great toenail samples from each of the 44 patients.
Mixed infections were present in 41% of the patients (18 of 44). A single coinfecting NDM was the most common mixed infection and was detected in 34% of patients with onychomycosis (15 of 44), with Fusarium oxysporum present in 14% (6 of 44), Scopulariopsis brevicaulis in 9% (4 of 44), Acremonium spp in 2% (1 of 44), Aspergillus spp in 4.5% (2 of 44), and Scytalidium spp in 4.5% (2 of 44). Mixed infections with two NDMs were found in 7% of patients (3 of 44).
Mixed onychomycosis infections may be more prevalent than previously reported.
Onychomycosis is estimated to occur in approximately 10% of the global population, with most cases caused by Trichophyton rubrum. Some persistent onychomycosis is caused by mixed infections of T rubrum and one or more co-infecting nondermatophyte molds (NDMs). In onychomycosis, T rubrum strain types may naturally switch and may also be triggered to switch in response to antifungal therapy. T rubrum strain types in mixed infections of onychomycosis have not been characterized.
T rubrum DNA strains in mixed infections of onychomycosis containing co-infecting NDMs were compared with a baseline North American population through polymerase chain reaction amplification of ribosomal DNA tandemly repetitive subelements (TRSs) 1 and 2. The baseline DNA strain types were determined from 102 clinical isolates of T rubrum. The T rubrum DNA strain types from mixed infections were determined from 63 repeated toenail samples from 15 patients.
Two unique TRS-2 types among the clinical isolates contributed to four unique TRS-1 and TRS-2 strain types. Six TRS-1 and TRS-2 strain types represented 92% of the clinical isolates of T rubrum. Four TRS-1 and TRS-2 strain types accounted for 100% of the T rubrum within mixed infections.
Four unique North American T rubrum strains were identified. In support of a shared ancestry, the T rubrum DNA strain types found in mixed infections with NDMs were among the most abundant types. A population of T rubrum strains in mixed infections of onychomycosis has been characterized, with more than one strain detected in some nails. The presence of a co-infecting NDM in mixed infections may contribute to failed therapy by stabilizing the T rubrum strain type, possibly preventing the antifungal therapy–induced strain type switching observed with infections caused by T rubrum alone.