Time to positivity of blood cultures in neonatal late-onset bacteraemia

Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. 2022 Nov;107(6):583-588. doi: 10.1136/archdischild-2021-323416. Epub 2022 Mar 10.


Objective: To determine the time to positivity (TTP) of blood cultures among infants with late-onset bacteraemia and predictors of TTP >36 hours.

Design: Retrospective cohort study.

Setting: 16 birth centres in two healthcare systems.

Patients: Infants with positive blood cultures obtained >72 hours after birth.

Outcome: The main outcome was TTP, defined as the time interval from specimen collection to when a neonatal provider was notified of culture growth. TTP analysis was restricted to the first positive culture per infant. Patient-specific and infection-specific factors were analysed for association with TTP >36 hours.

Results: Of 10 235 blood cultures obtained from 3808 infants, 1082 (10.6%) were positive. Restricting to bacterial pathogens and the first positive culture, the median TTP (25th-75th percentile) for 428 cultures was 23.5 hours (18.4-29.9); 364 (85.0%) resulted in 36 hours. Excluding coagulase-negative staphylococci (CoNS), 275 of 294 (93.5%) cultures were flagged positive by 36 hours. In a multivariable model, CoNS isolation and antibiotic pretreatment were significantly associated with increased odds of TTP >36 hours. Projecting a 36-hour empiric duration at one site and assuming that all negative evaluations were associated with an empiric course of antibiotics, we estimated that 1164 doses of antibiotics would be avoided in 629 infants over 10 years, while delaying a subsequent antibiotic dose in 13 infants with bacteraemia.

Conclusions: Empiric antibiotic administration in late-onset infection evaluations (not targeting CoNS) can be stopped at 36 hours. Longer durations (48 hours) should be considered when there is pretreatment or antibiotic therapy is directed at CoNS.

Keywords: microbiology; neonatology; sepsis; therapeutics.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bacteremia* / diagnosis
  • Bacteremia* / drug therapy
  • Blood Culture
  • Coagulase / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sepsis* / drug therapy
  • Staphylococcus


  • Coagulase
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents