The aim of this study was to prospectively analyze the bacterial etiology of community-acquired pneumonia in adults in Spain. From May 1994 to February 1996, 392 episodes of CAP diagnosed in the emergency department of a 600-bed university hospital were studied. An etiological diagnosis based on noninvasive microbiological investigations was achieved in 228 cases (58%); 173 of these diagnoses were definitive and 55 probable. Streptococcus pneumoniae, which caused 23.9% of the episodes, was the predominant pathogen observed, followed by Chlamydia pneumoniae (13.5%) and Legionella pneumophila (12.5%). Other less frequent pathogens found were Haemophilus influenzae (2.3%), Pseudomonas aeruginosa (1.5%), Mycoplasma pneumoniae (1.3%), Coxiella burnetii (1%), Moraxella catarrhalis (2 cases), Nocardia spp. (2 cases), and Staphylococcus aureus (2 cases). Streptococcus pneumoniae was significantly more frequent in patients with underlying disease and/or age > or =60 years (28% vs. 13%, P = 0.002), while Legionella pneumophila was more frequent in patients below 60 years of age and without underlying disease (20% vs. 9%, P = 0.006). Likewise, Streptococcus pneumoniae and Legionella pneumophila were the most frequent etiologies in patients requiring admission to the intensive care unit, occurring in 29% and 26.3% of the patients, respectively. In addition to Streptococcus pneumoniae, other microorganisms such as Chlamydia pneumoniae and Legionella spp. should be seriously considered in adults with community-acquired pneumonia when initiating empiric treatment or ordering rapid diagnostic tests.