Atypical pathogens and respiratory tract infections

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The atypical respiratory pathogens Chlamydia pneumoniae, Mycoplasma pneumoniae and Legionella pneumophila are now recognised as a significant cause of acute respiratory-tract infections, implicated in community-acquired pneumonia, acute exacerbations of chronic bronchitis, asthma, and less frequently, upper respiratory-tract infections. Chronic infection with C. pneumoniae is common among patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and may also play a role in the natural history of asthma, including exacerbations. The lack of a gold standard for diagnosis of these pathogens still handicaps the current understanding of their true prevalence and role in the pathogenesis of acute and chronic respiratory infections. While molecular diagnostic techniques, such as polymerase chain reaction, offer improvements in sensitivity, specificity and rapidity over culture and serology, the need remains for a consistent and reproducible diagnostic technique, available to all microbiology laboratories. Current treatment guidelines for community-acquired pneumonia recognise the importance of atypical respiratory pathogens in its actiology, for which macrolides are considered suitable first-line agents. The value of atypical coverage in antibiotic therapy for acute exacerbations of chronic bronchitis and exacerbations of asthma is less clear, while there is no evidence to suggest that atypical pathogens should be covered in antibiotic treatment of upper respiratory-tract infections.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-181
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Respiratory Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2004


  • Atypical
  • Chlamydia
  • Legionella
  • Mycoplasma
  • Respiratory-tract infections

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine


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