The choice of empirical treatment of nosocomial pneumonia in the intensive-care unit (ICU) used to rely on the interval after the start of mechanical ventilation. Nowadays, however, the question of whether in fact there is a difference in the distribution of causative pathogens is under debate. Data from 308 ICUs from the German National Nosocomial Infection Surveillance System, including information on relevant pathogens isolated in 11,285 cases of nosocomial pneumonia from 1997 to 2004, were used for our evaluation. Each individual pneumonia case was allocated either to early- or to late-onset pneumonia, with three differentiation criteria: onset on the 4th day, the 5th day, or the 7th day in the ICU. The frequency of pathogens was evaluated according to these categories. A total of 5,066 additional cases of pneumonia were reported from 2005 to 2006, after the CDC criteria had been modified. From 1997 to 2004, the most frequent microorganisms were Staphylococcus aureus (2,718 cases, including 720 with methicillin [meticillin]-resistant S. aureus), followed by Pseudomonas aeruginosa (1,837 cases), Klebsiella pneumoniae (1,305 cases), Escherichia coli (1,137 cases), Enterobacter spp. (937 cases), streptococci (671 cases), Haemophilus influenzae (509 cases), Acinetobacter spp. (493 cases), and Stenotrophomonas maltophilia (308 cases). The order of the four most frequent pathogens (accounting for 53.7% of all pathogens) was the same in both groups and was independent of the cutoff categories applied: S. aureus was first, followed by P. aeruginosa, K. pneumoniae, and E. coli. Thus, the predictabilities of the occurrence of pathogens were similar for the earlier (1997-to-2004) and later (2005-to-2006) time frames. This classification is no longer helpful for empirical antibiotic therapy, since the pathogens are the same for both groups.