Eighty-eight Nigerian children with untreated, severe, acute pneumonia were investigated by standard bacteriological techniques (blood culture and culture of pharyngeal secretions) and by needle aspiration of the consolidated lung. Countercurrent immunoelectrophoresis (CIE) against grouped pneumococcal and Haemophilus influenzae type b antisera was carried out on serum samples from 45 patients. The aetiology of pneumonia was shown by examination of the needle aspirate in 70/88 patients (79%), by CIE in 9/45 patients (20%), and by blood culture in 4/36 patients (11%). Overall, a bacterial cause for pneumonia was shown in 73/88 patients (83%). The results of pharyngeal culture were misleading when compared with cultures of needle aspirates. The prediction of aetiology from the radiological appearance was alos inaccurate, even for labor pneumonia. Needle aspiration of the lung, with a low (5%) and minor complication rate, merits wider application in the diagnosis of acute pulmonary infections in children. Tradiational bacteriological techniques (blood culture and pharyngeal culture) are of very limited value. The place of CIE in the investigation of childhood pneumonia still needs thorough evaluation.
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