What is the proper duration of antibiotic treatment in adults hospitalized with community-acquired pneumonia?


An 83-year-old male with hypertension, coronary artery disease, and obstructive sleep apnea presents with progressive shortness of breath, a productive cough, wheezing, and tachypnea. His blood pressure is 158/70 mm/Hg; temperature is 101.8; respirations are 26 breaths per minute; and oxygen saturation is 87% on room air. He has coarse breath sounds bilaterally, and decreased breath sounds over the right lower lung fields. His chest X-ray reveals a right lower lobe infiltrate. He is admitted to the hospital with a diagnosis of community-acquired pneumonia (CAP), and medical therapy is started. How should his antibiotic treatment be managed?


Community-acquired pneumonia is the most common infection-related cause of death in the U.S., and the eighth-leading cause of mortality overall.1 According to a 2006 survey, CAP results in more than 1.2 million hospital admissions annually, with an average length of stay of 5.1 days.2 Though less than 20% of CAP patients require hospitalization, cases necessitating admission contribute to more than 90% of the overall cost of pneumonia care.3

KEY Points

  • Clinical stability for mild to moderate CAP patients occurs, on average, around hospital day three, at which point most patients can safely be switched to oral medication and discharged from the hospital without additional observation.
  • Most adults hospitalized with mild to moderate CAP can safely be treated with an antibiotic course of five to seven days, particularly if they have shown significant improvement with initial therapy.

Additional Reading

  • Mandell LA, Wunderink RG, Anzueto A et al. Infectious Diseases Society of America/American Thoracic Society consensus guidelines on the management of community-acquired pneumonia in adults. Clin Infect Dis. 2007;44(Suppl 2):S27-72.
  • Niederman MS. Recent advances in community-acquired pneumonia: inpatient and outpatient. Chest. 2007;131: 1205-1215.
  • Durrington HJ, Summers C. Recent changes in the management of community acquired pneumonia in adults. BMJ. 2008;336:1429-1433.

During the past several years, the availability of new antibiotics and the evolution of microbial resistance patterns have changed CAP treatment strategies. Furthermore, the development of prognostic scoring systems and increasing pressure to streamline resource utilization while improving quality of care have led to new treatment considerations, such as managing low-risk cases as outpatients.

More recently, attention has been directed to the optimal duration of antibiotic treatment, with a focus on shortening the duration of therapy. Historically, CAP treatment duration has been variable and not evidence-based. Shortening the course of antibiotics might limit antibiotic resistance, decrease costs, and improve patient adherence and tolerability.4 However, before defining the appropriate antibiotic duration for a patient hospitalized with CAP, other factors must be considered, such as the choice of empiric antibiotics, the patient’s initial response to treatment, severity of the disease, and presence of co-morbidities.

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