Open Forum Infect Dis. 2020 Sep 15;7(9):ofaa307. doi: 10.1093/ofid/ofaa307. eCollection 2020 Sep.
BACKGROUND: Intensive studies have failed to identify an etiologic agent in >50% cases of community-acquired pneumonia (CAP). Bacterial pneumonia follows aspiration of recognized bacterial pathogens (RBPs) such as Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae, and Staphylococcus aureus after they have colonize the nasopharynx. We hypothesized that aspiration of normal respiratory flora (NRF) might also cause CAP.
METHODS: We studied 120 patients hospitalized for CAP who provided a high-quality sputum specimen at, or soon after admission, using Gram stain, quantitative sputum culture, bacterial speciation by matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization time-of-flight, and viral polymerase chain reaction. Thresholds for diagnosis of bacterial infection were ≥105 colony-forming units (cfu)/mL sputum for RBPs and ≥106 cfu for NRF.
RESULTS: Recognized bacterial pathogens were found in 68 of 120 (56.7%) patients; 14 (20.1%) of these had a coinfecting respiratory virus. Normal respiratory flora were found in 31 (25.8%) patients; 10 (32.2%) had a coinfecting respiratory virus. Infection by ≥2 RBPs occurred in 10 cases and by NRF together with RBPs in 13 cases. Among NRF, organisms identified as Streptococcus mitis, which share many genetic features of S pneumoniae, predominated. A respiratory virus alone was found in 16 of 120 (13.3%) patients. Overall, an etiologic diagnosis was established in 95.8% of cases.
CONCLUSIONS: Normal respiratory flora, with or without viral coinfection, appear to have caused one quarter of cases of CAP and may have played a contributory role in an additional 10.8% of cases caused by RBPs. An etiology for CAP was identified in >95% of patients who provided a high-quality sputum at, or soon after, the time of admission.