Nosocomial pneumonia (NP) is defined as pneumonia that develops within 48 hours or more of hospital admission and which was not developing at the time of admission. Nosocomial pneumonia, also known as hospital-acquired pneumonia (HAP), is the second most common hospital infection, while ventilator-associated pneumonia represents the most common intensive care unit (ICU) infection. Nosocomial pneumonia significantly contributes to morbidity, mortality, and escalating healthcare costs because of increases in antibiotic prescription and administration, length of ICU stay, and length of hospital stay.
Aspiration and colonization of the upper respiratory tract seem to be the major pathogenetic mechanisms for the development of NP, either in intubated or spontaneously breathing patients. The microbiology of NP depends on the timing of onset. In early-onset NP, the responsible pathogens are generally endogenous community-acquired pathogens. In late-onset NP, the responsible microbes include potentially multi-drug-resistant nosocomial organisms residing in oropharyngeal or gastric contents. Important risk factors for development of NP include coma, intubation, prolonged mechanical ventilation, repeated intubations, supine positioning, and long-term antibiotic use. The most significant preventive measures include routine hand washing and avoidance of (1) the supine position, (2) inappropriate antibiotics, and (3) overuse of H2-antagonists for stress ulcer prophylaxis. Accurate diagnosis of NP is difficult and controversial, warranting consideration for the application of invasive quantitative culture techniques over tracheal aspirates. Empiric antibiotic treatment should be prompt, starting on clinical suspicion, and based on local ICU pathogen epidemiology and antibiotic resistance patterns and on a deescalating antibiotic strategy. Innovative antibiotic strategies, such as antibiotic rotation, to help prevent the emergence of multi-drug-resistant pathogens and improve survival should be considered.