Recent advances in parapneumonic effusion and empyema

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Purpose of review

Complicated parapneumonic effusion and empyema continue to account for significant morbidity and mortality, and uncertainties remain regarding their optimal management. This review describes recent advances in this field, as well as areas for future research.

Recent findings

Recent advances have addressed the pathogenesis, bacteriology, and treatment of pleural infection. Key areas for research in the development of empyema include the interplay between inflammatory and coagulation cascades and development of fibrosis within the pleural space. The varied bacteriology of empyema has been more clearly defined, and in particular the differences between community- and hospital-acquired infection highlighted. Studies of treatment have focused particularly on the roles of intrapleural fibrinolytics and surgery.


Increased understanding of the pathogenesis of empyema may ultimately yield novel therapeutic targets. Comprehensive descriptions of the bacteriology of empyema aids antibiotic choice, and the use of intrapleural DNase shows promise in facilitating drainage of infected pleural fluid. Uncertainties remain, such as the role of intrapleural fibrinolytics and the optimal timing of surgical intervention.

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