We investigated the clinical background of patients at Shin-Kokura Hospital who showed a positive culture of pleural effusion during the period from January 1998 through December 2002. Microorganism cultures of the pleural effusions of 127 patients were performed in this 5-year period. Seventeen patients showed a positive microorganism culture from a pleural effusion, and 12 of these patients (70.6%) were 60 years old or more. Ten patients were diagnosed with thoracic empyema. Thirteen patients had an underlying disease such as malignancy (5 cases), diabetes mellitus (4 cases), etc. A purulent effusion and a high concentration of lactic dehydrogenase (LDH) in the pleural fluid were more frequently recognized in the positive-culture group. A total of 21 strains of microorganism were isolated from the 17 patients, including 10 strains of Gram-positive cocci, 6 strains of Gram-negative bacilli, 3 strains of anaerobes, 1 strain of mycobacterium (Mycobacterium tuberculosis), and 1 strain of fungus. Susceptibility to antimicrobial agents was generally good for most of the microorganisms isolated. Of the 17 patients, chest-tube drainage was performed in 13, and 6 needed a surgical operation. Twelve patients improved, but 5 died. In this study, thoracic empyema accounted for 58.8% of the 17 cases with a positive culture of pleural effusion. Of the 10 thoracic empyema patients, 5 patients needed surgical treatment in spite of adequate antimicrobial treatment and chest-tube drainage. Our data indicate that thoracic empyema is still difficult to treat, and thus adequate and rapid treatment is needed for any pleural infection.