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How Effective Is Penicillin for Pneumonia?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Penicillin for pneumonia can be highly effective when a patient is infected with a bacterial strain that is susceptible to the medication. In other cases, the drug may be of limited benefit and may not be recommended when better alternatives are available. Patients with pneumonia may be asked to submit a sputum sample for culturing to find out what is causing the infection, so the medical provider can determine the best treatment option. Doctors may certainly consider penicillin for pneumonia if it would be appropriate on a case-by-case basis.

This drug generated a significant breakthrough in medicine when it was introduced in the 1940s, paving the way for the development of more antibiotics. Before the advent of penicillin, people could die from bacterial infections that would rage untreated because no medication was available to manage them. The timing turned out to be ideal, as penicillin saved a number of lives during the Second World War, including those of soldiers with cases of pneumonia.

By the 1960s, researchers were starting to uncover pockets of resistant organisms. These organisms didn’t respond to penicillin therapy, and could pass their genes on to others to increase the number of bacteria that could resist the antibiotic. Over time, concerns about antibiotic resistance contributed to changes in guidelines for the use and administration of these drugs. In the case of penicillin for pneumonia, the resistance issue became significant in the 1990s, and guidelines changed to indicate it was no longer the drug of choice as a first-line treatment.

When a patient’s infection is caused by bacteria, not viruses or other organisms, it can be a candidate for treatment with penicillin. A susceptibility culture conducted in a lab can determine which antibiotics the bacteria will respond to. If penicillin is effective in culture, it may be recommended to treat the patient’s condition. Penicillin for pneumonia can be cost effective and may work very well when patients adhere to the recommended treatment plan. It is important to keep taking the medication even after the patient feels better, to thoroughly wipe out the infection.

Patients with questions about penicillin for pneumonia can discuss the available treatments and options with their medical practitioners. In some cases, medication may be provided before a culture because of the severity of illness, in which case a more effective antibiotic may be recommended to reduce the risk that the patient won’t respond because of antibiotic resistance. People who have had bad reactions to penicillin and related medications in the past should mention this, as these may be indicators that another medication would be safer.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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