Biomarkers and Disease Severity in Children With Community-Acquired Pneumonia

Pediatrics. 2020 Jun;145(6):e20193728. doi: 10.1542/peds.2019-3728. Epub 2020 May 13.


Background: Host biomarkers predict disease severity in adults with community-acquired pneumonia (CAP). We evaluated the association of the white blood cell (WBC) count, absolute neutrophil count (ANC), C-reactive protein (CRP), and procalcitonin with the development of severe outcomes in children with CAP.

Methods: We performed a prospective cohort study of children 3 months to 18 years of age with CAP in the emergency department. The primary outcome was disease severity: mild (discharged from the hospital), mild-moderate (hospitalized but not moderate-severe or severe), moderate-severe (eg, hospitalized with receipt of intravenous fluids, supplemental oxygen, complicated pneumonia), and severe (eg, intensive care, vasoactive infusions, chest drainage, severe sepsis). Outcomes were examined within the cohort with suspected CAP and in a subset with radiographic CAP.

Results: Of 477 children, there were no statistical differences in the median WBC count, ANC, CRP, or procalcitonin across severity categories. No biomarker had adequate discriminatory ability between severe and nonsevere disease (area under the curve [AUC]: 0.53-0.6 for suspected CAP and 0.59-0.64 for radiographic CAP). In analyses adjusted for age, antibiotic use, fever duration, and viral pathogen detection, CRP was associated with moderate-severe disease (odds ratio 1.12; 95% confidence interval, 1.0-1.25). CRP and procalcitonin revealed good discrimination of children with empyema requiring chest drainage (AUC: 0.83) and sepsis with vasoactive infusions (CRP AUC: 0.74; procalcitonin AUC: 0.78), although prevalence of these outcomes was low.

Conclusions: WBC count, ANC, CRP, and procalcitonin are generally not useful to discriminate nonsevere from severe disease in children with CAP, although CRP and procalcitonin may have some utility in predicting the most severe outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • C-Reactive Protein / metabolism
  • Calcitonin / blood
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Community-Acquired Infections / blood
  • Community-Acquired Infections / diagnostic imaging
  • Community-Acquired Infections / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Pneumonia / blood*
  • Pneumonia / diagnostic imaging*
  • Pneumonia / epidemiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index*


  • Biomarkers
  • Calcitonin
  • C-Reactive Protein