Objective. Empyema remains a significant cause of morbidity in children. This study evaluates the changes that have affected the outcome in children with pleural empyema, including the emergence of resistant organisms, the introduction of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, and earlier treatment with video-assisted thoracoscopy (VATS).

Methods. A retrospective chart review was performed on all patients who were discharged with a diagnosis of empyema and community-acquired pneumonia over a 10-year period (1993–2002) at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, Texas. Data collected included demographic information, clinical presentation, radiographic studies, laboratory data including culture results, and hospital course.

Results. A total of 230 charts were available for review. The mean age of the patients was 4.0 ± 3.6 years. Of the pleural fluid cultures performed, 32% (69 of 219) were positive. An additional 27 patients had a cause identified by blood culture. The first penicillin-nonsusceptible Streptococcus pneumoniae was identified in 1995, and the first methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus was identified in 1998. After the universal use of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, 3 major changes have occurred (1999–2000 vs 2001–2002): 1) the number of patients admitted with empyema (per 10 000 admissions) has decreased from 23 to 12.6; 2) the prevalence of S pneumoniae has decreased from 66% (29 of 44) to 27% (4 of 15); and 3) S aureus has become the most common pathogen isolated (18% vs 60%), with 78% of those being methicillin resistant. The use of early VATS (<48 hours after admission) versus late VATS (>48 hours after admission) significantly decreased the length of hospitalization (11.49 ± 6.56 days vs 15.18 ± 8.62 days).

Conclusions. The microbiologic cause of empyema has changed with an increasing incidence of S aureus, particularly methicillin-resistant S aureus. The use of VATS for initial therapy of empyema results in decreased duration of fever and length of hospitalization.

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