JOURNAL ARTICLE
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Empyema thoracis.

Epmyema thoracis is associated with high mortality ranging between 6% to 24%. The incidence of empyema is increasing in both children and adults; the cause of this surge is unknown. Most cases of empyema complicate community- or hospital-acquired pneumonia but a proportion results from iatrogenic causes or develops without pneumonia. Parapneumonic effusions (PPE) develop in about one half of the patients hospitalized with pneumonia and their presence cause a four-fold increase in mortality. Three stages in the natural course of empyema have long been described: the exudative, fibrinopurulent, and organizing phases. Clinically, PPE are classified as simple PPE, complicated PPE, and frank empyema. Simple PPE are transudates with a pH > 7.20 whereas complicated PPE are exudates with glucose level <2.2 mmol/l and pH < 7.20. Two guidelines statements on the management of PPE in adults have been published by the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) and the British Thoracic Society (BTS). Although they differ in their approach on how to manage PPE, they agree on drainage of the pleural space in complicated PPE and frank empyema. They also recommend the use of intrapleural fibrinolysis and surgical intervention in those who do not show improvement, but the level of evidence for the use of intrapleural fibrinolysis is not high highlighting the need for more research in this area. A recently published large randomized trial has shown no survival advantage with the use of intrapleural streptokinase in patients with pleural infection. However, streptokinase enhances drainage of infected pleural fluid and may still be used in patients with large collection of infected pleural fluid causing breathlessness or ventilatory failure. There is emerging evidence that the combination of intrapleural tPA/DNase is significantly superior to tPA or DNase alone, or placebo in improving pleural fluid drainage in patients with pleural space infection. A guideline statement on the management of PPE in children has been published by the BTS. It recommends the use of antibiotics in all patients with PPE in addition to either video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) or tube thoracostomy and intrapleural fibrinolysis. Prospective randomized trials have shown that intrapleural fibrinolysis is as effective as VATS for the treatment of childhood empyema and is a more economic treatment and therefore, should be the primary treatment of choice.

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