Background and methods: Coagulase-negative staphylococci are now the chief cause of bacteremia in neonatal intensive care units. To investigate potential risk factors for this nosocomial infection, we conducted a case--control study among 882 infants treated in two neonatal intensive care units during 1982.
Results: The 38 case patients and 76 controls were similar with respect to 27 indicators of the severity of the underlying illness. In addition, of the 20 potential risk factors for bacteremia that we investigated, only 2 met conventional criteria for causality. Infants with coagulase-negative staphylococcal bacteremia were 5.8 times as likely as controls (95 percent confidence interval, 4.1 to 8.3) to have received intravenous lipid emulsion before the onset of bacteremia. Because the use of lipids was common, 56.6 percent of all of the cases of nosocomial bacteremia could be attributed to lipid administration. Infants with bacteremia were also 3.5 times as likely as controls (95 percent confidence interval, 1.4 to 8.3) to have had a percutaneously inserted central venous catheter (attributable risk, 14.9 percent). The induction time for bacteremia after lipid administration, usually through peripheral catheters, was often less than one day. In contrast, the average induction period for nosocomial bacteremia associated with the use of central catheters, which were rarely used for lipid administration, was at least 5.5 days. Similar analyses of data on an additional 31 neonates treated in 1988 confirmed the strong and apparently independent association of coagulase-negative staphylococcal bacteremia with the intravenous administration of lipids (adjusted odds ratio, 5.3; 95 percent confidence interval, 3.5 to 6.7).
Conclusions: The risk of coagulase-negative staphylococcal bacteremia in infants in neonatal intensive care units can be attributed primarily to the intravenous administration of lipid emulsions. Since lipids are critical for the nutritional support of premature infants, further studies are needed to examine the pathogenesis and prevention of lipid-associated bacteremia.