What is the sensitivity of nose swabs in detecting methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) pneumonia?

In MRSA pneumonia, the sensitivity of nasal swab PCR may vary from as low as 24.2% to 88% (1-3). A 2018 meta-analysis found an overall sensitivity of 70.9% (community-acquired pneumonia/healthcare-associated pneumonia [HCAP] 85%, ventilator-associated pneumonia 40%) with overall negative predictive value of 96.5% (based on an overall MRSA pneumonia prevalence of 10%) (4). 

A single center  study involving  patients with possible HCAP and a low clinical pulmonary infection score (CPIS) — for whom antibiotics may not be necessary anyway (5)—suggested that discontinuation of empiric vancomycin in patients without an adequate respiratory culture and a negative nose and throat culture may be reasonable (6).

However, a prospective study of ICU patients concluded that “clinicians cannot reliably use the results of initial negative MRSA nasal swab results to withhold empirical MRSA coverage from patients who otherwise are at risk for MRSA infection” (3).

The previously cited 2018 meta-analysis study (4) cautions against use of MRSA screening in patients with structural lung disease (eg, cystic fibrosis or bronchiectasis) because colonization may be more frequent in the lower respiratory tract in these patients and screening tests may therefore be discordant (4).

Collectively, the available data suggest that it is reasonable to use a negative MRSA screen to help exclude pneumonia due to this pathogen in patients in whom MRSA infection is not highly suspected or those who are not severely ill.



  1. Rimawi RH, Ramsey KM, Shah KB, et al. Correlation between methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus nasal sampling, and S. aureus pneumonia in the medical intensive care unit. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2014;35:590-92. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24709733
  2. Dangerfield B, Chung A, Webb B, et al. Predictive value of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) nasal swab PCR assay for MRSA pneumonia. Antimicrob Agents Chemother 2014;58:859-64. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24277023
  3. Sarikonda KV, Micek ST, Doherty JA, et al. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus nasal colonization is a poor predictor of intensive care unit-acquired methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections requiring antibiotic treatment. Crit Care Med 2010;38:1991-1995. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20683260
  4. Parente DM Cunha CB Mylonakis E et al. The clinical utility of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) nasal screening to rule out MRSA pneumonia: A diagnostic meta-analysis with antimicrobial stewardship implications. Clin Infect Dis 208;67:1-7.
  5. Napolitano LM. Use of severity scoring and stratification factors in clinical trials of hospital-acquired and ventilator-associated pneumonia. Clin Infect Dis 2010;51:S67-S80. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20597675
  6. Boyce JM, Pop O-F, Abreu-Lanfranco O, et al. A trial of discontinuation of empiric vancomycin therapy in patients with suspected methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus health care-associated pneumonia. Antimicrob Agents Chemother 2013;57:1163-1168. http://aac.asm.org/content/57/3/1163.full.pdf
What is the sensitivity of nose swabs in detecting methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) pneumonia?

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