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Clin Microbiol Rev. 1989 Oct;2(4):329-53.

Clinical implications of positive blood cultures.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of South Carolina School of Medicine, Columbia 29203.


Positive blood cultures can be classified according to their veracity (true-positive or false-positive culture), clinical severity (inconsequential or life threatening), place of origin (community acquired or nosocomial), source (primary or secondary), duration (transient, intermittent, or continuous), pattern of occurrence (single episode, persistent, or recurrent), or intensity (high or low grade). In general, however, positive blood cultures identify a patient population at high risk of death. In my studies, patients with positive blood cultures were 12 times more likely to die during hospitalization than patients without positive blood cultures. Many bacteremias and fungemias occur in complicated clinical settings, and it appears that only about one-half of the deaths among affected patients are due directly to infection. Hence, it is appropriate to speak of "crude mortality" and "attributable mortality." Among hospitalized patients, recent trends include rising incidences of Staphylococcus aureus and coagulase-negative staphylococcal and enterococcal bacteremias and a dramatic increase in the incidence of fungemias. The diagnostic and therapeutic implications of blood cultures positive for specific microorganisms continue to evolve and are the subject of a large and growing medical literature.

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