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J Pediatr. 1997 Sep;131(3):398-404.

Incidence of bacteremia in infants and children with fever and petechiae.

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Division of Emergency Medicine, Children's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.



We determined the incidence of serious invasive bacteremia caused by Neisseria meningitidis and other organisms in febrile infants and children with a petechial rash. Further, we studied the diagnostic value of laboratory and clinical finding in these patients.


We conducted this prospective cohort study in the emergency department of an urban pediatric teaching hospital, during an 18-month period, and enrolled consecutive patients with temperature of 38 degrees C or higher and petechiae. Our measures included (1) laboratory tests (leukocyte count, coagulation profile, blood culture, and cerebrospinal fluid bacterial culture); (2) a questionnaire requesting clinical data including general appearance, number and location of petechiae, and presence or absence of purpura; and (3) a follow-up telephone survey documenting health status.


A total of 411 patients were enrolled, with 57.7% between 3 and 36 months of age. Eight patients (1.9%) had bacteremia or clinical sepsis. Six had serious invasive bacteremia: N. meningitidis (two patients), group A streptococcus (one), or sepsis with negative culture results (three). Two had occult bacteremia caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae and no evidence of sepsis. No patient had a positive cerebrospinal fluid culture result. None of the 357 well-appearing patients (95% confidence interval: 0.0%, 1.0%) had serious invasive bacteremia. Fifty-three patients appeared ill, including all six with serious invasive bacteremia. Ill appearance of the child had a sensitivity of 1.00 (95% confidence interval: 0.60, 1.00), and a leukocyte count of 15,000 or greater, or of less than 5000, had a sensitivity of 1.0 (95% confidence interval: 0.53, 1.00) for detecting serious invasive bacteremia. All children with meningococcemia had purpura.


Invasive bacteremia occurred less frequently in our study than in previous series and was identified by clinical criteria. Our data support the treatment of selected well-appearing children with fever and petechiae as outpatients.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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