Prevalence of atypical pathogens in patients with cough and community-acquired pneumonia: A meta-analysis

Christian Marchello, Ariella Perry Dale, Thuy Nhu Thai, Duk Soo Han, Mark H. Ebell

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


PURPOSE Community-acquired pneumonia (CAP), acute cough, bronchitis, and lower respiratory tract infections (LRTI) are often caused by infections with viruses or Streptococcus pneumoniae. The prevalence of atypical pathogens Mycoplasma pneumoniae, Chlamydophila pneumoniae, Legionella pneumophila, and Bordetella pertussis among patients with these illnesses in the ambulatory setting has not been previously summarized. We set out to derive prevalence information from the existing literature. METHODS We performed a systematic review of MEDLINE for prospective, con-secutive-series studies reporting the prevalence of M pneumoniae, C pneumoniae, L pneumophila and/or B pertussis in outpatients with cough, acute bronchitis, LRTI, or CAP. Articles were independently reviewed by 2 authors for inclusion and abstraction of data; discrepancies were resolved by consensus discussion. A meta-analysis was performed on each pathogen to calculate the pooled prevalence estimates using a random effects model of raw proportions. RESULTS Fifty studies met our inclusion criteria. While calculated heterogeneity was high, most studies reported prevalence for each pathogen within a fairly narrow range. In patients with CAP, the overall prevalences of M pneumoniae and C pneumoniae were 10.1% (95% CI, 7.1%-13.1%) and 3.5% (95% CI, 2.2%-4.9%), respectively. Consistent with previous reports, M pneumoniae prevalence peaked in roughly 6-year intervals. Overall prevalence of L pneumophila was 2.7% (95% CI, 2.0%-3.4%), but the organism was rare in children, with only 1 case in 1,765. In patients with prolonged cough in primary care, the prevalence of B pertussis was 12.4% (95% CI, 4.9%-19.8%), although it was higher in studies that included only children (17.6%; 95% CI, 3.4%-31.8%). CONCLUSIONS Atypical bacterial pathogens are relatively common causes of lower respiratory diseases, including cough, bronchitis, and CAP. Where surveillance data were available, we found higher prevalences in studies where all patients are tested for these pathogens. It is likely that these conditions are underreported, underdiagnosed, and undertreated in current clinical practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)552-566
Number of pages15
JournalAnnals of family medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Bordetella pertussis
  • Chlamydophila pneumoniae
  • Community acquired pneumonia
  • Cough
  • Legionella pneumophila
  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae
  • Respiratory tract infection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Family Practice


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