Are two sets of blood cultures adequate for evaluation of bacteremia in my febrile patient?

For great majority of patients, more than 2 sets of blood cultures is not likely to significantly improve the yield of detecting bacteremia. 

Although a 2004 report suggested that 2 sets of blood cultures over 24 h period had a sensitivity of only 80% for bacteremia, several other studies have found much higher sensitivities, ranging from ~90%- 99% 2-3. When broken down by organism, sensitivity of 2 sets of blood cultures may be highest for Staphylococcus aureus (97%), followed by E. coli (91%), and Klebsiella pneumoniae (90%) 2.  The Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute guidelines recommend paired blood culture sets (each set with 2 bottles, 10 ml of blood in each) to detect about 90-95% of patients with documented bacteremia, and 3 sets for 95-99% detection rate 4.

It seems prudent to strike a balance between drawing more than 2 sets of blood cultures—with its attendant risk of picking up contaminants— and what may be a definite but small incremental increase in the rate of detection of true bacteremia.

Whatever you do,  please don’t order only 1 set of blood cultures! Aside from its generally low yield, when positive it may be difficult to distinguish contaminants from true invaders.

 

References

  1. Cockerill FR, Reed GS, Hughes JG, et al. Clinical comparison of BACTEC 9240 Plus Aerobic/F resin bottles and the Isolator aerobic cultures. Clin Infect Dis 2004;38:1724-30. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9163464
  2. Lee A, Mirrett S, Reller LB, et al. Detection of bloodstream infections in adults: how many cultures are needed? J Clin Microbiol 2007; 45:3546-48. http://jcm.asm.org/content/45/11/3546
  3. Towns ML, Jarvis WR, Hsueh PR. Guidelines on blood cultures. J Microbiol Immunol Infect 2010;43:347-49. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20688297
  4. Weinstein MP, Reller LB, Murphy JR, et al. The clinical significance of positive blood cultures: a comprehensive analysis of 500 episodes of bacteremia and fungemia in adults. I. Laboratory and eipidemiologic observations. Rev Infect Dis 1982;5:35-53. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6828811
Are two sets of blood cultures adequate for evaluation of bacteremia in my febrile patient?

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