New diagnostic methods for pneumonia in the ICU

Curr Opin Infect Dis. 2016 Apr;29(2):197-204. doi: 10.1097/QCO.0000000000000249.


Purpose of review: Pneumonia leading to severe sepsis and critical illness including respiratory failure remains a common and therapeutically challenging diagnosis. Current clinical approaches to surveillance, early detection, and conventional culture-based microbiology are inadequate for optimal targeted antibiotic treatment and stewardship. Efforts to enhance diagnosis of community-acquired and health care-acquired pneumonia, including ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP), are the focus of recent studies reviewed here.

Recent findings: Newer surveillance definitions are sensitive for pneumonia in the ICU including VAP but consistently underdetect patients that are clinically shown to have bacterial VAP based on clinical diagnostic criteria and response to antibiotic treatment. Routinely measured plasma biomarkers, including procalcitonin and C-reactive protein, lack sufficient precision and predictive accuracy to inform diagnosis. Novel rapid microbiological diagnostics, including nucleic-acid amplification, mass spectrometry, and fluorescence microscopy-based technologies are promising approaches for the future. Exhaled breath biomarkers, including measurement of volatile organic compounds, represent a future approach.

Summary: The integration of novel diagnostics for rapid microbial identification, resistance phenotyping, and antibiotic sensitivity testing into usual care practice could significantly transform the care of patients and potentially inform significantly improved targeted antimicrobial selection, de-escalation, and stewardship.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Breath Tests / methods
  • Community-Acquired Infections / diagnosis
  • Cross Infection / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Microbiological Techniques / methods*
  • Microbiological Techniques / trends
  • Molecular Diagnostic Techniques / methods*
  • Molecular Diagnostic Techniques / trends
  • Pneumonia / diagnosis*


  • Biomarkers