Procalcitonin as a marker of bacterial infection in the emergency department: an observational study

Crit Care. 2004 Feb;8(1):R12-20. doi: 10.1186/cc2396. Epub 2003 Nov 20.


Introduction: Procalcitonin (PCT) has been proposed as a marker of infection in critically ill patients; its level is related to the severity of infection. We evaluated the value of PCT as a marker of bacterial infection for emergency department patients.

Methods: This prospective observational study consecutively enrolled 120 adult atraumatic patients admitted through the emergency department of a 3000-bed tertiary university hospital in May 2001. Fifty-eight patients were infected and 49 patients were not infected. The white blood cell counts, the serum C-reactive protein (CRP) level (mg/l), and the PCT level (ng/ml) were compared between the infected and noninfected groups of patients.

Results: A white blood cell count >12,000/mm3 or <4000/mm3 was present in 36.2% of the infected patients and in 18.4% of the noninfected patients. The best cut-off serum levels for PCT and CRP, identified using the Youden's Index, were 0.6 ng/ml and 60 mg/l, respectively. Compared with CRP, PCT had a comparable sensitivity (69.5% versus 67.2%), a lower specificity (64.6% versus 93.9%), and a lower area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (0.689 versus 0.879). PCT levels, but not CRP levels, were significantly higher in bacteremic and septic shock patients. Multivariate logistic regression identified that a PCT level >/= 2.6 ng/ml was independently associated with the development of septic shock (odds ratio, 38.3; 95% confidence interval, 5.6-263.5; P < 0.001).

Conclusions: PCT is not a better marker of bacterial infection than CRP for adult emergency department patients, but it is a useful marker of the severity of infection.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bacterial Infections / blood
  • Bacterial Infections / diagnosis*
  • Bacterial Infections / immunology
  • Biomarkers / blood*
  • C-Reactive Protein / analysis
  • Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide
  • Calcitonin* / blood
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Hospitals, University
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Observation
  • Prospective Studies
  • Protein Precursors* / blood


  • Biomarkers
  • CALCA protein, human
  • Protein Precursors
  • Calcitonin
  • C-Reactive Protein
  • Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide