Pulmonary infections in critical/intensive care – rapid diagnosis and optimizing antimicrobial usage

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Purpose of review

Diagnosis of pulmonary infection, including hospital-acquired pneumonia (HAP) and ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) in the critically ill patient remains a common and therapeutically challenging diagnosis with significant attributable morbidity, mortality, and cost. Current clinical approaches to surveillance, early detection and, conventional culture-based microbiology are inadequate for optimal targeted antibiotic treatment and stewardship. Efforts to enhance diagnosis of HAP and VAP and the impact of these novel approaches on rational antimicrobial selection and stewardship are the focus of recent studies reviewed here.

Recent findings

Recent consensus guidelines for diagnosis and management of HAP and VAP are relatively silent on the potential role of novel rapid microbiological techniques and reply heavily on conventional culture strategies of noninvasively obtained (including endotracheal aspirate samples). Novel rapid microbiological diagnostics, including nucleic acid amplification, mass spectrometry, and fluorescence microscopy-based technologies are promising approaches for the future. Exhaled breath biomarkers, including measurement of VOC represent a future approach.


Further validation of novel diagnostic technology platforms will be required to evaluate their utility for enhancing diagnosis and guiding treatment of pulmonary infections in the critically ill. However, the integration of novel diagnostics for rapid microbial identification, resistance phenotyping, and antibiotic sensitivity testing into usual care practice could significantly transform the care of patients and potentially inform improved targeted antimicrobial selection, de-escalation, and stewardship.

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