Antibiotic overuse in respiratory illness is common and is associated with drug resistance and hospital-acquired infection. Biomarkers that can identify bacterial infections may reduce antibiotic prescription. We aimed to compare the usefulness of the biomarkers procalcitonin and C-reactive protein (CRP) in patients with pneumonia or exacerbations of asthma or COPD.
Patients with a diagnosis of community-acquired pneumonia or exacerbation of asthma or COPD were recruited during the winter months of 2006 to 2008. Demographics, clinical data, and blood samples were collected. Procalcitonin and CRP concentrations were measured from available sera.
Sixty-two patients with pneumonia, 96 with asthma, and 161 with COPD were studied. Serum procalcitonin and CRP concentrations were strongly correlated (Spearman rank correlation coefficient [rs] = 0.56, P < .001). Patients with pneumonia had increased procalcitonin and CRP levels (median [interquartile range] 1.27 ng/mL [2.36], 191 mg/L ) compared with those with asthma (0.03 ng/mL [0.04], 9 mg/L ) and COPD (0.05 ng/mL [0.06], 16 mg/L ). The area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (95% CI) for distinguishing between patients with pneumonia (antibiotics required) and exacerbations of asthma (antibiotics not required), for procalcitonin and CRP was 0.93 (0.88-0.98) and 0.96 (0.93-1.00). A CRP value > 48 mg/L had a sensitivity of 91% (95% CI, 80%-97%) and specificity of 93% (95% CI, 86%-98%) for identifying patients with pneumonia.
Procalcitonin and CRP levels can both independently distinguish pneumonia from exacerbations of asthma. CRP levels could be used to guide antibiotic therapy and reduce antibiotic overuse in hospitalized patients with acute respiratory illness.