Diagnosis of ventilator-associated pneumonia: an evaluation of direct examination and presence of intracellular organisms

Anesthesiology. 1997 Aug;87(2):268-76. doi: 10.1097/00000542-199708000-00013.


Background: Ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) requires early diagnosis and adequate antibiotic therapy. The aim of this prospective postmortem study was to assess the accuracy of direct examination and quantification of intracellular organisms (ICO) for the diagnosis of VAP.

Methods: Total and differential cell counts were performed on fluids recovered using nonbronchoscopic sampling techniques (blind bronchial sampling [BBS], mini-bronchoalveolar lavage [mini-BAL]) and from bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) performed during fiberscopy. These 3 sampling techniques were done within 15 min of death without discontinuing mechanical ventilation. Quantification of ICO was performed on each sample recovered from the various sampling procedures. Gram reaction and morphology of bacteria were evaluated on Gram smears.

Results: The results of each technique were compared with histology and culture of lung tissue specimens obtained by surgical pneumonectomies in 28 patients who died after at least 72 h of mechanical ventilation. Histology was positive in 13 patients and negative in 15 patients. When only VAP with positive lung culture was considered (histologic signs of bronchopneumonia plus positive lung tissue culture), the sensitivity of Gram staining on BAL, mini-BAL, and BBS was 56%, 44%, and 56%, respectively. If all samples were considered, the sensitivity and the specificity of the determination of the percentage of ICO were low (less than 70%) whatever the sampling technique.

Conclusions: For initial therapeutic guidance, direct examination and presence of ICO do not contribute for establishing the diagnosis of VAP, essentially because of a lack of sensitivity. However, when positive, Gram staining can obviously guide initial antibiotherapy.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Autopsy
  • Bronchoalveolar Lavage
  • Bronchoscopy
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Neutrophils / microbiology
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / diagnosis*
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / microbiology
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / pathology
  • Ventilators, Mechanical / adverse effects*