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Use of elastin fibres detected in non-directed low volume bronchial lavage in ventilated ICU patients

Departments of Intensive Care Medicine, Pathology and Microbiology, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Summary

Elastin fibres in sputum have been described as a more sensitive marker of pulmonary necrosis than plain chest X-rays. This study aimed to determine the prevalence of elastin fibres using non-directed non-protected mini-bronchoalveolar lavage (BM-BAL) in mechanically ventilated patients in the intensive care unit. Patients admitted to the general intensive care unit of a tertiary referral hospital requiring more than 48 hours of mechanical ventilation had surveillance BM-BAL performed on admission and were then examined weekly using potassium hydroxide wet preparations for the presence of elastin fibres. All positive and a random selection of 16 negative preparations from patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome or pneumonia were fixed and examined using Weigert's staining method for elastin. Of 412 patients enrolled, 130 (32%) had pneumonia on admission, 50 (12%) developed 58 episodes of ventilator-associated pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome was diagnosed in 86 patients (21%). No chest X-ray showed cavitating infiltrates. Of 985 specimens examined, only seven had elastin fibres. Elastin fibres are uncommonly found using BM-BAL in general screening, acute respiratory distress syndrome or pneumonia in the intensive care unit, the incidence too low to be a useful indicator of pulmonary necrosis.

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