Parapneumonic pleural effusion and pleural empyema (PPE/PE) are complications of community-acquired pneumonia. The objective of this study was to analyze prehospital antibiotic therapy (PH-ABT) of children with PPE/PE and investigate its effects on clinical outcome and pathogen detection.
Prospective nationwide active surveillance in Germany between October 2010 and June 2018. Children and adolescents <18 years of age with pneumonia-associated PE or PPE requiring drainage or with persistence of PPE/PE >7 days were included.
A total of 1724 children with PPE/PE were reported, of whom 556 children (32.3% of 1719 with available data) received PH-ABT. Children with PH-ABT had a shorter median hospital length of stay (15 vs. 18 days, P < 0.001), a longer time from onset of symptoms until hospital discharge (25 vs. 23 days, P = 0.002), a lower rate of intensive care unit admission (58.3% vs. 64.4%, P = 0.015) and fewer infectious complications (5.9% vs. 10.0%; P = 0.005). Bacterial pathogens in blood or pleural fluid culture were detected in 597 (34.5%) of 1513 children. Positive culture results were less frequent in children with than without PH-ABT (81/466 [17.4%] vs. 299/1005 [29.8%]; P < 0.001), whereas detection rates in pleural fluid samples by polymerase chain reaction were similar (91/181 [50.3%] vs. 220/398 [55.3%]; P = 0.263).
In children with PPE/PE, PH-ABT significantly reduced the overall rate of bacterial pathogen detection by culture, but not by polymerase chain reaction. PH-ABT was associated with a lower rate of infectious complications but did not affect the overall duration of disease. We therefore speculate that the duration of PPE/PE is mainly a consequence of an infection-induced inflammatory process, which can only partially be influenced by antibiotic treatment.