Objective: To determine the clinical presentation and treatment strategies for children admitted with pleural empyema.
Methodology: Retrospective review of medical and radiological records of 54 patients admitted with pleural empyema between January 1989 and April 1997.
Results: Fever (98%), cough (83%), chest pain (38%), clinical cyanosis (17%) and abdominal pain (16%) were common clinical features. The causative organism was identified in 17 patients (31%). Intravenous antibiotics were given for a mean of 18. 2 +/- 7.5 days. Forty-seven (87%) patients had closed chest tube drainage and 21(39%) patients underwent decortication for unsatisfactory response to medical treatment. The chest tube insertion was more likely to be delayed in patients who required decortication, although the difference was not significant (8.1 +/- 5.4 vs 6.3 +/- 5.2 days of illness, P = 0.67). All patients were discharged well, with almost complete resolution of the chest radiograph at 6 months.
Conclusions: Intensive medical management with adequate chest tube drainage and appropriate antibiotics will result in full resolution for most patients. Surgical intervention is important in patients who fail to receive adequate treatment early in the disease.