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Atypical respiratory pathogens such as Mycoplasma pneumoniae and intracellular pathogens such as Legionella spp. and Chlamydia spp. form a significant proportion of the aetiological agents underlying community-acquired pneumonia (CAP). The clinical signs or radiological features of atypical pneumonia are generally insufficient to predict accurately the pathogen involved; in addition, high costs and a considerable length of time are involved in the identification of atypical pathogens. Treatment is, therefore, most often empirical, and it is important that the activity of antibacterial agents available to treat CAP is sufficiently broad to eradicate infection with both common and atypical bacterial pathogens. Telithromycin (HMR 3647) is the first of a new family of antibacterials, the ketolides, and has been designed specifically for the treatment of community-acquired respiratory tract infections (RTIs). The excellent activity of telithromycin against the respiratory tract bacterial pathogens most commonly associated with community-acquired RTIs, including resistant strains, is well established. This review examines the considerable body of evidence showing that telithromycin also has a high level of activity against atypical and intracellular respiratory tract bacterial pathogens.