Contamination rates of blood cultures obtained by dedicated phlebotomy vs intravenous catheter

JAMA. 2003 Feb 12;289(6):726-9. doi: 10.1001/jama.289.6.726.


Context: Blood culture is the criterion standard for identifying children with bacteremia. However, elevated false-positive rates are common and are associated with substantial health care costs.

Objective: To compare contamination rates in blood culture specimens obtained from separate sites vs through newly inserted intravenous catheters.

Design, setting, and participants: Observational study conducted January 1998 through December 1999 among patients aged 18 years or younger who were seen at a US children's hospital emergency department and had a blood culture obtained as part of their care. Medical records were reviewed in all cases with a positive blood culture. Patients with indwelling vascular catheters were excluded.

Intervention: All phlebotomy was performed by emergency department registered nurses. During the baseline phase, blood specimens for culture were obtained simultaneously with intravenous catheter insertion. During the postintervention phase, specimens were obtained by a separate, dedicated procedure.

Main outcome measure: Contamination rate in the postintervention period compared with the baseline period.

Results: A total of 4108 blood cultures were evaluated, including 2108 during the baseline phase and 2000 in the postintervention phase. The false-positive blood culture rate decreased from 9.1% to 2.8% (P<.001). A statistical process control chart demonstrated a steady-state process in the baseline phase and the establishment of a significantly improved steady state in the postintervention phase. Young age was associated with increased contamination rate in both the baseline and postintervention periods.

Conclusion: Blood culture contamination rates were lower when specimens were drawn from a separate site compared with when they were drawn through a newly inserted intravenous catheter.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Bacteremia / diagnosis*
  • Blood / microbiology*
  • Blood Specimen Collection* / methods
  • Catheterization, Peripheral
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Phlebotomy