To determine risk factors for ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) caused by potentially drug-resistant bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Acinetobacter baumannii, and/or Stenotrophomonas maltophilia, 135 consecutive episodes of VAP observed in a single ICU over a 25-mo period were prospectively studied. For all patients, VAP was diagnosed based on results of bronchoscopic protected specimen brush (> or = 10(3) cfu/ml) and bronchoalveolar lavage (> or = 10(4) cfu/ml) specimens. Seventy-seven episodes were caused by "potentially resistant" bacteria and 58 episodes were caused by "other" organisms. According to logistic regression analysis, three variables among potential factors remained significant: duration of mechanical ventilation (MV) > or = 7 d (odds ratio [OR] = 6.0), prior antibiotic use (OR = 13.5), and prior use of broad-spectrum drugs (third-generation cephalosporin, fluoroquinolone, and/or imipenem) (OR = 4.1). Distribution of the 245 causative bacteria was analyzed according to four groups defined by prior duration of MV (< 7 or > or = 7 d) and prior use or lack of use (within 15 d) of antibiotics. Although 22 episodes of early-onset VAP in patients receiving no prior antibiotics were caused by antibiotic-susceptible bacteria, 84 episodes of late-onset VAP in patients receiving prior antibiotics were mainly caused by potentially resistant bacteria. Differences in the potential efficacies (ranging from 100% to 11%) against microorganisms of 15 antimicrobial regimens were studied according to classification into these four groups. These findings may provide a more rational basis for selecting the initial therapy of patients suspected of having VAP.