BACKGROUND: Detection of pneumococcal antigen may help to increase the rate of diagnosis of pneumococcal pneumonia. This study was designed to determine the value of rapid detection of pneumococcal antigen in pleural fluid from patients with community acquired pneumonia. METHODS: Thoracentesis was performed in patients suspected of having empyema and in patients with pneumonia of unknown aetiology. Pneumococcal capsular antigen was detected by latex agglutination and this method was compared with Gram staining and culture, specimens of pleural fluid being examined in parallel by the three methods. RESULTS: Pleural fluid was radiographically identified in 63 of 135 patients with community acquired pneumonia. In nine of 45 patients with pneumococcal pneumonia and pleural fluid pneumococci were identified by Gram stain in two and by culture in one specimen of pleural fluid, whereas antigen was detected in eight of these specimens. In 12 of 33 patients with pneumonia of other known aetiology only one pleural fluid specimen was antigen positive, providing a specificity of 92% for this test. Pleural fluid obtained from 12 of 58 patients with pneumonia of unknown aetiology yielded detectable antigen in seven cases. CONCLUSIONS: Detection of pneumococcal antigen by latex agglutination in pleural fluid may yield important and rapid information in patients with community acquired pneumonia.
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