In the August 14,2006 issue of Internal Medicine News we learn of reports that corticosteroids may reduce the morbidity and mortality of severe bacterial pneumonia.
Dr. Antoni Torres from the University of Barcelona apparently become interested in the potential value of steroids in this application from his observational study of 1,424 hospitalized patients in which one of the independent protective risk factors was COPD. This seems counterintuitive but he reasoned that perhaps it was the use of steroids (which is routine in exacerbations of COPD) that was protective.
The news article reported that a small RCT (46 patients) showed a reduction in mortality in the group receiving 200 mg of hydrocortisome IV followed by 7 days of a lower dose(Am J. Respir.Crit.Care.2005,171:242-8). I could not find that reference on PUBMED but here Dr. Torres discusses the issue.
Another larger RCT is currently in progress in Italy. Patients will be those with community acquired pneumonia who have a high mortality risk and a C-reactive-protein above 15. The thought here seems to be that in severe pneumonia -as flagged by the CRP value-there is an important element of systemic inflammatory response which might be mitigated by the steroids.
The value of steroids in sepsis has been difficult to ascertain as indicated in this 2004 Annals of Internal Medicine summary of a recent meta-analysis. I suspect the value of steroids may be a bit hard to sort out in pneumonia as well. RCTs in seriously ill patients who are heterogeneous in multiple aspects offer quite a challenge and finding the right dose-if there is one-may be difficult as suggested by the results of the sepsis treatment meta-analysis in which it appeared that "high-dose" was harmful and "low dose" helpful.