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February 17, 1984

The Atypical Pneumonia Syndrome

Author Affiliations

From the Section of Infectious Diseases, Department of Internal Medicine and Immunology/Microbiology, Rush Medical College, Chicago.

JAMA. 1984;251(7):945-948. doi:10.1001/jama.1984.03340310059023

The 1938 article by Dr H. A. Reimann, a Philadelphia physician from Jefferson Medical College,1 published in The Journal, became widely quoted and popularized the term atypical pneumonia. Dr Reimann described the presence of a pneumonia syndrome with findings quite different from the lobar consolidation of classic pneumococcal pneumonia and stressed a possible viral etiology. His cases varied from afebrile upper respiratory tract illness to a severe, prolonged pneumonia associated with encephalopathy. Headaches and symptoms of tracheobronchitis often preceded the signs of pneumonia.

Retrospectively, one might question why this article had such a substantial effect in subsequent years. Neither the syndrome nor the name atypical pneumonia originated with Dr Reimann. There were many reports from Europe in the early 1920s of an unusual acute pneumonia syndrome of unknown cause. Similar syndromes had been described in army troops, school academies, and colleges in the United States between 1931 and 1936.