Incubation time required for neonatal blood cultures to become positive

J Paediatr Child Health. 2006 Dec;42(12):797-802. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1754.2006.00980.x.


Aim: We aimed to determine the laboratory detection time of bacteraemia in neonatal blood cultures, and whether this differed by: organism; samples deemed to represent true bacteraemia versus contaminants; and blood cultures collected from an infant <48 h of age (early) or >or=48 h of age (late).

Methods: A retrospective audit of all positive blood cultures collected from neonates in the Grantley Stable Neonatal Unit, Royal Women's Hospital, Brisbane, between 1 January 2000 and 31 December 2004 was undertaken. The bacteraemia detection method used was the BacTAlert system with Peds bottles.

Results: Two hundred and three positive blood cultures were included in the analysis. One hundred and sixteen (57%) were deemed septicaemia, 87 (43%) were deemed contaminants. The median (interquartile range) time to positivity for positive blood cultures deemed septicaemia and contaminants were 15.9 (11.6, 22.2) and 30.2 (20.4, 43.9) h, respectively. Fifty-six (28%) positive blood cultures were collected when infants were <48 h of age and 147 (72%) were collected in infants >or=48 h of age. Post hoc analysis revealed that the time to positivity for early septicaemia was 13.7 (11, 16.7) h; early contaminant was 25.2 (19.2, 33.8) h; late septicaemia was 17.2 (12.2, 23.4) h; and late contaminant was 37.9 (21.7, 51.2) h. The time to positivity for: Group B streptococcus was 9.3 (8.2, 11.0) h; Escherichia coli was 11.3 (10.0, 13.5) h; and coagulase-negative staphylococci was 28.9 (20.5, 41.2) h.

Conclusion: The incubation time for positive blood cultures significantly differs by organism type and whether they are considered early or late septicaemia versus contaminants. We recommend that: infants who are <48 h of age at the time of blood culture collection, who remain clinically well and have negative cultures 36 h after the initial collection can safely have their antibiotic treatment ceased; infants who are >or=48 h of age at the time of collection should continue antibiotic treatment for at least 48 h before cessation is considered.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteremia / blood
  • Bacteremia / diagnosis*
  • Bacteremia / microbiology
  • Bacteriological Techniques / methods*
  • Birth Weight
  • Blood / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sepsis / blood
  • Sepsis / diagnosis
  • Sepsis / microbiology
  • Time Factors