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Time to positivity of neonatal blood cultures
  1. Y Kumar,
  2. M Qunibi,
  3. T J Neal,
  4. C W Yoxall
  1. Department of Neonatology, Liverpool Women's Hospital, Liverpool, UK
  1. Dr Kumar, Royal Cornwall Hospital, Truro TRI 3RG, Cornwall, UKy.kumar{at}


AIM To determine how long it takes neonatal blood cultures to become positive.

METHODS Data were collected retrospectively on 451 positive blood cultures from babies on a tertiary neonatal unit between January 1997 and December 1998. During the study period, the laboratory used the BacT/Alert microbial detection system.

RESULTS Complete information was available on 416 blood cultures. Twelve became positive after 72 hours, none of which were considered to be clinically significant. Of the 404 remaining cultures, 86% were positive at 36 hours, 96% at 48 hours, and 98.5% by 60 hours. If definite bacterial pathogens are considered alone, the time to positivity was 90% by 36 hours, 93% by 48 hours, and 98% by 60 hours. If definite and possible bacterial pathogens are considered (coagulase negative staphylococci taken as possible bacterial pathogens), the time to positivity was 89% at 36 hours and 97% at 48 hours. The negative predictive value, for isolation of any organism before 72 hours, of a negative blood culture was 97% at 36 hours and 99% at 48 hours. The negative predictive value for the isolation of definite bacterial pathogens only was 99.7% at 36 hours and 99.8% at 48 hours.

CONCLUSIONS A period of 36 hours is enough to rule out sepsis in the asymptomatic neonate, and a three day incubation period is sufficient to detect all clinically important infections using the BacT/Alert microbial detection system.

  • blood cultures
  • positivity
  • sepsis
  • infection

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