A prospective study of 132 patients with severe community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) treated in the ICU was carried out to determine the causative agents, the value of the clinical, biological, and radiologic features in predicting the etiology, and to define prognostic factors. The study group included 98 men and 34 women (mean age: 58 +/- 18 years). The most frequent underlying condition was COPD (51 patients, 39 percent). On admission, 35 patients were in shock, 71 were mentally confused, and 81 (61 percent) required mechanical ventilation during their hospitalization. The clinical, laboratory, and radiologic parameters were of little value for predicting the etiology in patients with severe CAP. An etiologic diagnosis was made in 95 (72 percent) patients. The most frequent pathogens were Streptococcus pneumoniae (43 cases [45 percent]), Gram-negative bacilli (14 cases [15 percent]), and Haemophilus influenzae (14 cases [15 percent]) Mortality was 24 percent. It was significantly associated with a age more than 60 years, septic shock, impairment of alertness, mechanical ventilation requirement, bacteremic pneumonia, and S pneumoniae or Enterobacteriaceae as the causes of the pneumonia. Recommendations for antibiotic chemotherapy in patients with severe CAP admitted to the ICU are included.