Nursing Home–Associated Pneumonia, Part I: Diagnosis

  • Joseph M. Mylotte
    Address correspondence to Joseph M. Mylotte, MD, 3613 Galway Ln Ormond Beach, FL 32174.
    Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Science, State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY
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      Pneumonia is 1 of the 3 most common infections identified in nursing home residents and is associated with the highest mortality of any infection in this setting. In regard to pneumonia in the nursing home setting, practitioners are focused primarily on identifying residents with this infection and choosing a treatment regimen. In this article, the diagnosis of this infection is addressed. Based on published studies and clinical experience, “bedside criteria” for the diagnosis of nursing home–associated pneumonia (NHAP) are proposed that are based primarily on objective respiratory signs and symptoms that can be readily identified by staff. It is also stressed that factors predisposing to aspiration should be identified because there is a risk for aspiration pneumonitis. A previously published decision tool to distinguish between aspiration pneumonia and aspiration pneumonitis is discussed. Because providers are often not present when there is a change in status of a resident, nursing staff are crucial to the diagnosis of NHAP. However, there is variability in staff experience and the ability to obtain and communicate clinical findings to assist providers in making decisions about diagnosis. To deal with this issue, templates have been developed to help staff collect the appropriate information before contacting the provider. The most important diagnostic test in a resident with suspected pneumonia is a chest radiograph. However, studies done more than a decade ago demonstrated considerable variability in radiologists' interpretation of chest radiographs of residents performed in the nursing home. Radiologic techniques have improved considerably with utilization of digital technology, but there have been no recent studies to determine if interpretation of these radiographs is more consistent. An alternative to radiographs is lung ultrasonography, which has been found to be more accurate than chest radiographs in identifying pneumonia in adults; however, this method has not been studied in the nursing home setting. Host biomarkers such as serum C-reactive protein and procalcitonin levels have been studied in adults with pneumonia to distinguish between bacterial and nonbacterial infection, but there has been limited study in NHAP and the findings are conflicting. Lastly, it is stressed that the provider should carefully document the clinical findings and testing that result in a diagnosis of pneumonia to enhance surveillance for infection as well as antimicrobial stewardship activities.


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