Differential time to positivity: a useful method for diagnosing catheter-related bloodstream infections

Ann Intern Med. 2004 Jan 6;140(1):18-25. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-140-1-200401060-00007.


Background: Catheter-related bloodstream infections are associated with recognized morbidity and mortality, especially in critically ill patients. Accurate diagnosis of such infections results in proper management of patients and in reducing unnecessary removal of catheters.

Objective: To evaluate differential time to positivity as a method for diagnosing catheter-related bacteremias caused by both short-term and long-term use of central venous catheters.

Design: Prospective study design.

Setting: M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas, a tertiary care cancer center.

Patients: All patients, between September 1999 and November 2000, who had the same organism isolated from blood cultures drawn simultaneously through the central venous catheter and the peripheral vein.

Measurements: Time necessary for the blood cultures from the central venous catheter and the peripheral vein to become positive, as well as other relevant patient information.

Results: 191 bloodstream infections with positive simultaneous central venous catheter and peripheral vein blood cultures were included. One hundred eight patients had catheter-related bacteremias, and 83 had non-catheter-related bacteremias. Catheter-related bacteremias were more frequently caused by staphylococci and less likely to be associated with underlying hematologic malignant conditions, neutropenia, and longer duration of hospitalization. As a diagnostic tool for catheter-related bacteremia (using a composite definition reference standard according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America guidelines), differential time to positivity of 120 minutes or more was associated with 81% sensitivity and 92% specificity for short-term catheters and 93% sensitivity and 75% specificity for long-term catheters.

Conclusion: Differential time to positivity of 120 minutes or more is highly sensitive and specific for catheter-related bacteremia in patients who have short- and long-term catheters.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteremia / diagnosis*
  • Bacteremia / etiology*
  • Bacteriological Techniques / methods*
  • Catheterization, Central Venous / adverse effects*
  • Catheterization, Central Venous / instrumentation
  • Catheters, Indwelling / adverse effects*
  • Equipment Contamination
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Time Factors