Multiple media outlets today are reporting that University of Arizona neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Lemole has told reporters that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is breathing on her own but the the endotracheal tube is being kept in place to prevent complications such as pneumonia.
If Dr. Lemole has indeed said that, it is completely inaccurate and incorrect. The placement of a breathing tube or endotracheal tube through the patient’s mouth or nose and into the tracheal does not protect against the development of pneumonia. It actually increases the risk of pneumonia and is a widely described condition in critical care medicine called ventilator associated pneumonia or VAP.
All experienced critical care physicians work to remove breathing tubes as quickly as possible because the risk of developing VAP is estimated to be about 1% per day for every day the tube is in place. The development of VAP is also directly related to ICU mortaliy outcomes.
The type of organism causing pneumonia secondary to a breathing tube varies depending on how quickly the tube has been in place before the pneumonia develops. Possible causative organism are Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, and Pseudomonas species among others.