Objectives. The precise epidemiology of childhood pneumonia remains poorly defined. Accurate and prompt etiologic diagnosis is limited by inadequate clinical, radiologic, and laboratory diagnostic methods. The objective of this study was to determine as precisely as possible the epidemiology and morbidity of community-acquired pneumonia in hospitalized children.
Methods. Consecutive immunocompetent children hospitalized with radiographically confirmed lower respiratory infections (LRIs) were evaluated prospectively from January 1999 through March 2000. Positive blood or pleural fluid cultures or pneumolysin-based polymerase chain reaction assays, viral direct fluorescent antibody tests, or viral, mycoplasmal, or chlamydial serologic tests were considered indicative of infection by those organisms. Methods for diagnosis of pneumococcal pneumonia among study subjects were published by us previously. Selected clinical characteristics, indices of inflammation (white blood cell and differential counts and procalcitonin values), and clinical outcome measures (time to defervescence and duration of oxygen supplementation and hospitalization) were compared among groups of children.
Results. One hundred fifty-four hospitalized children with LRIs were enrolled. Median age was 33 months (range: 2 months to 17 years). A pathogen was identified in 79% of children. Typical respiratory bacteria were identified in 60% (of which 73% were Streptococcus pneumoniae), viruses in 45%, Mycoplasma pneumoniae in 14%, Chlamydia pneumoniae in 9%, and mixed bacterial/viral infections in 23%. Preschool-aged children had as many episodes of atypical bacterial LRIs as older children. Children with typical bacterial or mixed bacterial/viral infections had the greatest inflammation and disease severity. Multivariate logistic-regression analyses revealed that high temperature (≥38.4°C) within 72 hours after admission (odds ratio: 2.2; 95% confidence interval: 1.4–3.5) and the presence of pleural effusion (odds ratio: 6.6; 95% confidence interval: 2.1–21.2) were significantly associated with bacterial pneumonia.
Conclusions. This study used an expanded diagnostic armamentarium to define the broad spectrum of pathogens that cause pneumonia in hospitalized children. The data confirm the importance of S pneumoniae and the frequent occurrence of bacterial and viral coinfections in children with pneumonia. These findings will facilitate age-appropriate antibiotic selection and future evaluation of the clinical effectiveness of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine as well as other candidate vaccines.