Resistance to penicillin and cephalosporin and mortality from severe pneumococcal pneumonia in Barcelona, Spain

N Engl J Med. 1995 Aug 24;333(8):474-80. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199508243330802.


Background: Penicillin-resistant strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae are now found worldwide, and strains with resistance to cephalosporin are being reported. The appropriate antibiotic therapy for pneumococcal pneumonia due to resistant strains remains controversial.

Methods: To examine the effect of resistance to penicillin and cephalosporin on mortality, we conducted a 10-year, prospective study in Barcelona of 504 adults with culture-proved pneumococcal pneumonia.

Results: Among the 504 patients, 145 (29 percent) had penicillin-resistant strains of S. pneumoniae (minimal inhibitory concentration [MIC] of penicillin G, 0.12 to 4.0 micrograms per milliliter), and 31 patients (6 percent) had cephalosporin-resistant strains (MIC of ceftriaxone or cefotaxime, 1.0 to 4.0 micrograms per milliliter). Mortality was 38 percent in patients with penicillin-resistant strains, as compared with 24 percent in patients with penicillin-sensitive strains (P = 0.001). However, after the exclusion of patients with polymicrobial pneumonia and adjustment for other predictors of mortality, the odds ratio for mortality in patients with penicillin-resistant strains was 1.0 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.5 to 1.9; P = 0.84). Among patients treated with penicillin G or ampicillin, the mortality was 25 percent in the 24 with penicillin-resistant strains and 19 percent in the 126 with penicillin-sensitive strains (P = 0.51). Among patients treated with ceftriaxone or cefotaxime, the mortality was 22 percent in the 59 with penicillin-resistant strains and 25 percent in the 127 with penicillin-sensitive strains (P = 0.64) The frequency of resistance to cephalosporin increased from 2 percent in 1984-1988 to 9 percent in 1989-1993 (P = 0.002). Mortality was 26 percent in patients with cephalosporin-resistant S. pneumoniae and 28 percent in patients with susceptible organisms (P = 0.89). Among patients treated with ceftriaxone or cefotaxime, mortality was 22 percent in the 18 with cephalosporin-resistant strains and 24 percent in the 168 with cephalosporin-sensitive organisms (P = 0.64).

Conclusions: Current levels of resistance to penicillin and cephalosporin by S. pneumoniae are not associated with increased mortality in patients with pneumococcal pneumonia. Hence, these antibiotics remain the therapy of choice for this disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Bacteremia / microbiology
  • Bacteremia / mortality
  • Cefotaxime / therapeutic use
  • Ceftriaxone / therapeutic use
  • Cephalosporin Resistance*
  • Community-Acquired Infections / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Penicillin G / therapeutic use
  • Penicillin Resistance*
  • Pneumonia, Pneumococcal / drug therapy
  • Pneumonia, Pneumococcal / microbiology
  • Pneumonia, Pneumococcal / mortality*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Spain / epidemiology
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae / classification
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae / isolation & purification


  • Ceftriaxone
  • Cefotaxime
  • Penicillin G