Is Streptococcus pneumoniae the leading cause of pneumonia of unknown etiology? A microbiologic study of lung aspirates in consecutive patients with community-acquired pneumonia

Am J Med. 1999 Apr;106(4):385-90. doi: 10.1016/s0002-9343(99)00050-9.


Purpose: Although a wide variety of recognized pathogens can cause community-acquired pneumonia, in many patients the etiology remains unknown after routine diagnostic workup. The aim of this study was to identify the causal agent in these patients by obtaining lung aspirates with transthoracic needle aspiration.

Subjects and methods: During a 15-month period, all consecutive patients with community-acquired pneumonia who were eligible for transthoracic needle aspiration were enrolled in the study. In addition to conventional microbial methods (culture of blood and sputum, serologic studies), we performed cultures and genetic and antigen tests for common respiratory pathogens in lung aspirates.

Results: The study group consisted of 109 patients. Conventional microbial studies identified an etiology in 54 patients (50%), including Mycoplasma pneumoniae in 19 patients, Chlamydia pneumoniae in 9 patients, and Streptococcus pneumoniae in 9 patients. Among the remaining 55 patients, study of the lung aspiration provided evidence of the causal agent in 36 (65%). In 4 additional patients with a single microbial diagnosis by conventional methods, the lung sample provided evidence of an additional microorganism. The new pathogens detected by lung aspiration were S. pneumoniae in 18 patients, Haemophilus influenzae in 6 patients, Pneumocystis carinii in 4 patients, and C. pneumoniae in 3 patients; other organisms were identified in 4 patients.

Conclusions: In our study, S. pneumoniae was the leading cause of community-acquired pneumonia, accounting for 25% of all cases, including about one-third of the cases the cause of which could not be ascertained with routine diagnostic methods.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Community-Acquired Infections / microbiology*
  • DNA Primers
  • DNA, Bacterial / chemistry
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / microbiology*
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae / genetics
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae / isolation & purification*
  • Suction*


  • DNA Primers
  • DNA, Bacterial