Background: Neonatal sepsis is a low incidence, high-risk disease with many sepsis work-ups performed to detect a single case. Seventy-two hours of antibiotic therapy have been traditionally recommended pending negative culture results. Improved culture media and new technology integrated into blood culture systems could shorten incubation time required to detect positive culture results. This would then change the length of antibiotic therapy in the management of the newborn infant with suspected sepsis. In addition, previous data supporting the 72-hour recommendation were retrospectively acquired, utilized nonautomated systems, and reported in an era with a different population of microorganisms cultured in special care nurseries.
Objective: Evaluate the time of incubation to detect positive blood cultures from newborn infants with suspected sepsis using a computer-assisted, automated blood culture system, ESP (Trek Diagnostic Systems, Inc, Westlake, OH).
Design: Prospective, observational study.
Patients and setting: All positive blood culture results that were obtained from term and preterm newborn infants born from November 1993 through June 1997 at a publicly funded hospital with over 6000 live births per year.
Methods: As positive blood culture results were identified, data were prospectively obtained from the patient's medical record. The computer algorithm in the automated blood culture system determined the time to positivity. Time to positivity was determined for blood cultures obtained before the initiation antimicrobial therapy and compared with those cultures obtained after beginning therapy. Time to positivity was also evaluated for clinically important Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria and yeast.
Results: Four hundred fifty-five positive blood culture results were obtained from 222 patients. Gram-positive organisms accounted for 80% (366/455) of the positive culture results, Gram-negative organisms accounted for 11% (48/455), and yeast for 9% (41/455). Virtually all cultures growing clinically significant Gram-positive and Gram-negative organisms were positive by 24 to 36 hours of incubation. Cultures growing Staphylococcus epidermidis were virtually all positive after 36 to 48 hours of incubation. Of cultures growing yeast, 88% (36/41) were positive by 48 hours of incubation. There was no difference in time to positivity in pretherapy or posttherapy obtained positive blood cultures. Prenatally administered antibiotics did not affect time to positivity in positive cultures drawn on the first day of life. In a selected group of microorganisms that are the frequent cause of bacteremia in term infants, 97% and 99% of cultures were positive by 24 to 36 hours of incubation when only pretherapy cultures are evaluated.
Conclusions: The ESP blood culture system identified 77%, 89% and 94% of all microorganisms at 24, 36, and 48 hours of incubation in aerobic cultures obtained from both term and preterm infants. Introduction of antimicrobial therapy did not affect time to positivity. Reducing duration of antibiotic therapy to 24 to 36 hours should be considered in term, asymptomatic newborn infants undergoing evaluation for suspected sepsis for maternal indications. Confirmation of similar rapidity of detection using other blood culture systems should be undertaken.