Bacterial pneumonia medical therapy

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Editor(s)-in-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1] Phone:617-632-7753; Philip Marcus, M.D., M.P.H.[2]


Antimicrobial therapy is the mainstay of treatment for bacterial pneumonia. Patients with severe disease, co-morbidities, and/or complications usually require hospitalization and multidrug therapy.

Medical Therapy

Antimicrobials are the treatment of choice for bacterial pneumonia. The choice of antibiotic depends on the nature of the pneumonia, the microorganisms most commonly causing pneumonia in the geographical region, and the immune status and underlying health of the individual. In the United Kingdom, Amoxicillin is used as first-line therapy in the vast majority of patients who acquire pneumonia in the community, sometimes with added Clarithromycin.

In North America, macrolides are recommended as monotherapy for outpatient treatment of pneumonia in previously healthy patients. However macrolide resistance is increasing among Streptococcus pneumonia. A macrolide + beta-lactam (amoxicillin-clavulonate, cefpodoxime) should be considered if macrolide resistance is > 25% (which is true in most areas of the US). Macrolide + beta-lactam should be used if the patient is not otherwise healthy.[1] The macrolide + beta-lactam combination is also recommended for patients who require inpatient treatment for community acquired pneumonia.

If Staphylococcus aureus (rare cause of community-acquired pneumonia, but common in healthcare-associated pneumonia) is suspected based on history or chest x-ray, vancomycin should be added to the treatment. If Pseudomonas aeruginosa is suspected (likewise rare in the community, but common in healthcare settings), a beta-lactam antibiotic with activity against Pseudomonas should be chosen. Piperacillin-tazobactam and cefepime are commonly used for this purpose.

Respiratory fluoroquinolones (levofloxacin, moxifloxacin) are also options for treating community acquired pneumonia on an inpatient or outpatient basis [1]. However in light of recent FDA warnings about fluoroquinolone use [2] given concerns about emerging resistance, fluoroquinolones are a less ideal treatment option.

Local patterns of antibiotic-resistance should always be considered when initiating pharmacotherapy. In critically ill patients or those with immune deficiencies, local guidelines determine the selection of antibiotics. These antibiotics are typically given intravenously.

Treatment of gram-positive organisms

Treatment of gram-negative organisms

Treatment of atypical organisms

Most atypical causes of pneumonia require treatment for 14-21 days.

  • Chlamydophila pneumoniae (typical community-acquired organism) - Macrolide or doxycycline
  • Chlamydophila psittaci (less common community-acquired organism) - Macrolide or doxycycline
  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae (typical community-acquired organism) - Macrolide or doxycycline
  • Legionella pneumophila (less common community-acquired organism) - Macrolide or doxycycline

People who have difficulty breathing due to pneumonia may require extra oxygen. An extremely sick individual may require artificial ventilation and intensive care as life-saving measures while his or her immune system fights off the infectious cause with the help of antibiotics and other drugs.


  1. 1.0 1.1 IDSA 2007 guidelines on pneumonia