Escalation of antimicrobial resistance among Streptococcus pneumoniae: implications for therapy

Semin Respir Crit Care Med. 2005 Dec;26(6):575-616. doi: 10.1055/s-2005-925524.


Over the past 2 decades, antimicrobial resistance among Streptococcus pneumoniae, the most common cause of community-acquired pneumonia (CAP), has escalated dramatically worldwide. In the late 1970s, strains of pneumococci displaying resistance to penicillin were described in South Africa and Spain. By the early 1990s, penicillin-resistant clones of S. pneumoniae spread rapidly across Europe and globally. Additionally, resistance to macrolides and other antibiotic classes escalated in tandem with penicillin resistance. Six international clones (serotypes 6A, 6B, 9V, 14, 19F, 23F) were responsible for most of these resistant isolates. Currently, 20 to 30% of S. pneumoniae worldwide are multidrug resistant (MDR) (i.e., resistant to > or = 3 different classes of antibiotics). Despite the dramatic escalation in the rate of antimicrobial resistance among pneumococci worldwide, the clinical impact of antimicrobial resistance is difficult to define. Treatment failures due to antibiotic-resistant pneumococci have been reported with meningitis, otitis media, and lower respiratory tract infections, but the relation between drug resistance and treatment failures has not been convincingly established. Clinical failures often reflect factors independent of antimicrobial susceptibility of the infecting organisms. Host factors (e.g., extremes of age; underlying immunosuppressive or debilitating disease; comorbidities), or factors that affect intrinsic virulence of the organisms (e.g., capsular subtype) strongly influence prognosis. Mortality rates are higher in the presence of multilobar involvement, renal insufficiency, need for intensive care unit (ICU) care, hypoxemia, severe derangement in physiological parameters, and comorbidities. Given these confounding factors, determining the impact of antimicrobial resistance on clinical outcomes is difficult, if not impossible. Prospective, randomized trials designed to assess the clinical significance of antimicrobial resistance among pneumococci are lacking, and for logistical reasons, will never be done. Does in vitro resistance translate into clinical failures? Should changing resistance patterns modify our choice of therapy for CAP or for suspected pneumococcal pneumonia? This review discusses several facets, including mechanisms of antimicrobial resistance among specific antibiotic classes, epidemiology and spread of antimicrobial resistance determinants regionally and worldwide, risk factors for acquisition and dissemination of resistance, the impact of key international clones displaying MDR, the clinical impact of antimicrobial resistance, and strategies to limit or curtail antimicrobial resistance among this key respiratory tract pathogen.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial*
  • Humans
  • Pneumonia, Pneumococcal / drug therapy*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Streptococcal Infections / drug therapy*
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae / drug effects*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents