A prospective assessment was made of the frequency of positive blood cultures in patients undergoing colonoscopy with or without polypectomy. A total of 270 patients underwent 280 colonoscopies, of these, there were 105 patients that had 111 polypectomies. Blood cultures were taken prior to and within 15 min following each procedure. Six of 280 (2.1%) preprocedural blood cultures were positive. Seven of 169 (4%) blood cultures were positive within 15 min of insertion of the colonoscope in the colonoscopy only group. Eight of 223 (3.6%) blood cultures were positive within 10 min of the polypectomy. There was no clinical evidence of sepsis during the 24 hr following these procedures. In order to determine appropriate postprocedural sampling intervals, we induced a Staphylococcus epidermidis bacteremia with a mean of 1.16 X 10(6) colony forming units/ml on 10 occasions in seven dogs. Within 30 min of inoculation, we were able to detect only one colony forming unit/ml. The rate of positive blood cultures during colonoscopy alone and following polypectomy during colonoscopy is comparable to other gastrointestinal endoscopy procedures. The most optimal time to collect blood cultures in order to detect transient bacteremia is as soon after the procedure as is feasibly possible.