How well does procalcitonin distinguish bacterial from viral causes of community-acquired pneumonia in hospitalized patients?

Not extremely well! Although a recent multicenter prospective study in adult hospitalized patients reported that the median procalcitonin (PCT) concentration was significantly lower for community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) caused by viral pathogens ( 0.09 u/ml vs atypical bacteria [0.2 ug/ml] and typical bacteria [2.5 ug/ml]),  PCT was <0.1 ug/ml and <0.25 ug/ml  in 12.4% and 23.1% of typical bacterial cases, respectively1

This means that we could potentially miss about a quarter of CAP cases due to typical bacterial causes if we use the <0.25 ug/ml threshold (<0.20 is ug/ml has been used to exclude sepsis2). For these reasons and based on the results from another study3, no threshold for PCT can reliably distinguish bacterial from viral etiologies of CAP4.  Clinical context is essential in interpreting PCT levels! Also go to a related pearl on this site5.

Can PCT distinguish Legionella from other atypical bacterial causes of CAP (eg, caused by Mycoplasma or Chlamydophila)? The answer is “maybe”! Legionella was associated with higher PCT levels compared to  Mycoplasma and Chlamydophila in one study1, but not in another3.

References

  1. Self WH, Balk RA, Grijalva CG, et al. Procalcitonin as a marker of etiology in adults hospitalized with community-acquired pneumonia. Clin Infect Dis 2017;65:183-90. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28407054
  2. Meisner M. Update on procalcitonin measurements. Ann Lab Med 2014;34:263-73.
  3. Krüger S, Ewig S, Papassotiriou J, et al. Inflammatory parameters predict etiologic patterns but do not allow for individual prediction of etiology in patients with CAP-Results from the German competence network CAPNETZ. Resp Res 2009;10:65. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2714042/pdf/1465-9921-10-65.pdf
  4. Bergin SP, Tsalik EL. Procalcitonin: the right answer but to which question? Clin Infect Dis 2017; 65:191-93. https://academic.oup.com/cid/article-abstract/65/2/191/3605416/Procalcitonin-The-Right-Answer-but-to-Which?redirectedFrom=fulltext
  5. https://pearls4peers.com/2017/07/01/should-i-order-serum-procalcitonin-on-my-patient-with-suspected-infection
How well does procalcitonin distinguish bacterial from viral causes of community-acquired pneumonia in hospitalized patients?

How do I interpret an elevated serum C-reactive protein (CRP) and normal erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) or vice-versa?

Discordance between serum CRP and ESR is not uncommon (1,2). This phenomenon may be due to a variety of factors including the fact that the kinetics of these two tests is quite different, as discussed under “Should I order C-reactive protein (CRP) or erythrocyte sedimentation (ESR) on patients suspected of having a new infection?” in this blog. In a study of CRP/ESR discordance (defined as results differing by 2 or 3 quartiles) in adults, a high CRP/low ESR profile was more likely to be associated with  urinary, GI, blood stream, and pulmonary infections, myocardial infarction, and venous thromboembolism and less likely to be associated with bone and joint infections (1). In the same study, a high ESR/low CRP was associated with connective tissue diseases, such as systemic lupus erythematosus and strokes (1).

1. Feldman M, Aziz B, Kang GN, et al. C-reactive protein and erythrocyte sedimentation rate discordance: frequency and causes in adults. Translational Research 2013;161:37-43.

2. Colombet I, Pouchot J, Kronz V. Agreement between erythrocyte sedimentation rate and C-reactive protein in hospital practice. Am J Med 2010;123:864.e7-863.e13.

How do I interpret an elevated serum C-reactive protein (CRP) and normal erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) or vice-versa?