Respiratory viral testing and antibacterial treatment in patients hospitalized with community-acquired pneumonia

Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 2021 Jul;42(7):817-825. doi: 10.1017/ice.2020.1312. Epub 2020 Dec 1.


Objective: Viruses are more common than bacteria in patients hospitalized with community-acquired pneumonia. Little is known, however, about the frequency of respiratory viral testing and its associations with antimicrobial utilization.

Design: Retrospective cohort study.

Setting: The study included 179 US hospitals.

Patients: Adults admitted with pneumonia between July 2010 and June 2015.

Methods: We assessed the frequency of respiratory virus testing and compared antimicrobial utilization, mortality, length of stay, and costs between tested versus untested patients, and between virus-positive versus virus-negative patients.

Results: Among 166,273 patients with pneumonia on admission, 40,787 patients (24.5%) were tested for respiratory viruses, 94.8% were tested for influenza, and 20.7% were tested for other viruses. Viral assays were positive in 5,133 of 40,787 tested patients (12.6%), typically for influenza and rhinovirus. Tested patients were younger and had fewer comorbidities than untested patients, but patients with positive viral assays were older and had more comorbidities than those with negative assays. Blood cultures were positive for bacterial pathogens in 2.7% of patients with positive viral assays versus 5.3% of patients with negative viral tests (P < .001). Antibacterial courses were shorter for virus-positive versus -negative patients overall (mean 5.5 vs 6.4 days; P < .001) but varied by bacterial testing: 8.1 versus 8.0 days (P = .60) if bacterial tests were positive; 5.3 versus 6.1 days (P < .001) if bacterial tests were negative; and 3.3 versus 5.2 days (P < .001) if bacterial tests were not obtained (interaction P < .001).

Conclusions: A minority of patients hospitalized with pneumonia were tested for respiratory viruses; only a fraction of potential viral pathogens were assayed; and patients with positive viral tests often received long antibacterial courses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Infective Agents*
  • Community-Acquired Infections* / drug therapy
  • Community-Acquired Infections* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Pneumonia, Viral* / diagnosis
  • Pneumonia, Viral* / drug therapy
  • Pneumonia, Viral* / epidemiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Viruses*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Anti-Infective Agents