Role of ‘atypical pathogens’ among adult hospitalized patients with community-acquired pneumonia


Nelson Lee, Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, 9/F Clinical Sciences Building, Prince of Wales Hospital, Shatin, Hong Kong SAR. Email:


Background and objective:  Agents such as Mycoplasma pneumoniae, Chlamydophila pneumoniae and Legionella pneumophila are recognized as important causes of community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) worldwide. This study examined the role of these ‘atypical pathogens’ (AP) among adult hospitalized patients with CAP.

Methods:  A prospective, observational study of consecutive adult CAP (clinico-radiological diagnosis) patients hospitalized during 2004–2005 was conducted. Causal organisms were determined using cultures, antigen testing and paired serology. Clinical/laboratory/radiological variables and outcomes were compared between different aetiologies, and a clinical prediction rule for AP was constructed.

Results:  There were 1193 patients studied (mean age 70.8 ± 18.0 years, men 59.3%). Causal organisms were identified in 468 (39.2%) patients: ‘bacterial’ (48.7%), ‘viral’ (26.9%), ‘AP’ (28.6%). The AP infections comprised Mycoplasma or Chlamydophila pneumoniae (97.8%) and co-infection with bacteria/virus (30.6%). The majority of AP infections involved elderly patients (63.4%) with comorbidities (41.8%), and more than one-third of patients were classified as ‘intermediate’ or ‘high’ risk CAP on presentation (pneumonia severity index IV–V (35.1%); CURB-65 2–5 (42.5%)). Patients with AP infections had disease severities and outcomes similar to patients with CAP due to other organisms (oxygen therapy 29.1% vs 29.8%; non-invasive ventilation 3.7% vs 3.3%; admission to the intensive care unit 4.5% vs 2.7%; length of hospitalization 6 day vs 7 day; 30-day mortality: 2.2% vs 6.0%; overall P > 0.05). Age <65 years, female gender, fever ≥38.0°C, respiratory rate <25/min, pulse rate <100/min, serum sodium >130 mmol/L, leucocyte count <11 × 109/L and Hb < 11 g/dL were features associated with AP infection, but the derived prediction rule failed to reliably discriminate CAP caused by AP from bacterial CAP (area under the curve 0.75).

Conclusions: M. pneumoniae and C. pneumoniae as single/co-pathogens are important causes of severe pneumonia among older adults. No reliable clinical indicators exist, so empirical antibiotic coverage for hospitalized CAP patients may need to be considered.