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J Clin Microbiol. 2006 Dec;44(12):4425-9. Epub 2006 Oct 4.

Blood culture contamination in Tanzania, Malawi, and the United States: a microbiological tale of three cities.

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  • 1Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC, USA, and Lilongwe Central Hospital, Malawi.


We conducted retrospective, comparative analyses of contamination rates for cultures of blood obtained in the emergency rooms of Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Lilongwe Central Hospital (LCH) in central Malawi; and the Duke University Medical Center (DUMC) in the United States. None of the emergency room patients had indwelling intravascular devices at the time that the blood samples for cultures were obtained. In addition, we reviewed the contamination rates for a cohort of patients already hospitalized in the DUMC inpatient medical service, most of whom had indwelling intravascular devices. The bloodstream infection rates among the patients at MNH (n=513) and LCH (n=486) were similar (approximately 28%); the contamination rates at the two hospitals were 1.3% (7/513) and 0.8% (4/486), respectively. Of 54 microorganisms isolated from cultures of blood collected in the DUMC emergency room, 26 (48%) were identified as skin contaminants. Cultures of blood collected in the DUMC emergency room were significantly more likely to yield growth of contaminants than the cultures of blood collected in the emergency rooms at MNH and LCH combined (26/332 versus 11/1,003; P<0.0001) or collected in the DUMC inpatient medical service (26/332 versus 7/283; P<0.01). For the MNH and LCH blood cultures, lower contamination rates were observed when skin was disinfected with isopropyl alcohol plus tincture of iodine rather than isopropyl alcohol plus povidone-iodine. In conclusion, blood culture contamination was minimized in sub-Saharan African hospitals with substantially limited resources through scrupulous attention to aseptic skin cleansing and improved venipuncture techniques. Application of these principles when blood samples for culture are obtained in U.S. hospital emergency rooms should help mitigate blood culture contamination rates and the unnecessary microbiology workup of skin contaminants.

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