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Bronchiectasis and recurrent pulmonary infections

Reviewed By Microbiology, Tuberculosis & Pulmonary Infections Assembly

Submitted by

Julie Jarand MD


National Jewish Medical and Research Center

Denver, CO

Shannon Kasperbauer MD

Faculty Member

National Jewish Medical and Research Center

Denver, CO

Charles L. Daley MD

Faculty Member

National Jewish Medical and Research Center

Denver, CO

Submit your comments to the author(s).


A 59-year-old female never-smoker presents with a history of recurrent lower respiratory tract infections and cough. She developed her first episode of pneumonia at age 33 and has experienced lower respiratory tract infections approximately one to three times per year since that time. Exacerbations typically consist of increased cough and sputum production, significant fatigue and mild-to-moderate shortness of breath on exertion. Her symptoms improve for a few months with a course of oral antibiotics (and/or prednisone). She reports occasional low-grade fevers but no chills, night sweats or weight loss. She has had no improvement with the use of inhaled steroid and long-acting bronchodilator therapy. Her only medications are venlafaxine and intermittent antihistamine use.

Her past medical history is significant for left breast cancer which was treated with mastectomy as well as adjunctive radiation and chemotherapy. During follow-up with her oncologist, a right lower-lobe pulmonary nodule was noted on chest radiograph and was subsequently shown to have increased uptake on PET scan. Computer tomography (CT) guided biopsy showed granulomatous inflammation and no evidence of malignancy. Chest CT at that time revealed bronchiectasis, most prominent in lower lobes.

The patient works as a high school chemistry teacher. She has dogs and cats at home but no other exposures. She reports her tuberculin skin test to be positive for several years although she has no known tuberculosis exposure. Her family history is significant for her mother who had recurrent respiratory infections as a young adult and died at the age of 35 from respiratory failure. Review of systems was positive for intermittent heartburn symptoms and postnasal drip but no sinus congestion.

Physical Exam

The patient was in no distress and she was afebrile with an oxygen saturation of 95% on room air. There was no cervical or axillary lymphadenopathy. Respiratory exam revealed good breath sounds bilaterally with no crackles or wheeze. Cardiac exam was unremarkable. Her abdomen was nontender with no hepatosplenomegaly.


Normal complete blood count, electrolytes, creatinine, calcium

Normal liver transaminases and total bilirubin

Normal C-reactive protein

Normal immunoglobulin levels (IgG, IgM, IgA, IgE)

Skin testing for Aspergillus sp. - negative

Negative ANA, rheumatoid factor, anti-SSA & SSB

Cystic fibrosis testing for 97 mutations was negative

Alpha-1 antitrypsin level – 21 mg/dL (normal 72-192 mg/dL)

Esophagram – mild reflux to distal esophagus

Tailored barium swallow – mild hypopharyngeal dysmotility

PFTs    -FEV1 2.16L (83% predicted)

            FVC 2.86L (85% predicted)

            FEV1/FVC 76%

No bronchodilator response

TLC 107%

RV 176%

DLCO 66%

Chest CT – moderately severe varicoid and cystic bronchiectasis involving multiple lobes with lower lobe predominance. Scattered centrilobular nodularity and linear opacities present. No evidence of emphysema. Patchy airtrapping is present on expiratory views. (Figure 1)


Bronchoalveolar lavage– Mycobacterium abscessus

Sputum– Mycobacterium abscessus, rare Staphylococcus aureus, rare yeast.


Figure 1. High-resolution chest CT

Question 1

Which of the following is the most likely condition to be associated with bronchiectasis in this patient?


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