Open Access Research article

Blood culture status and mortality among patients with suspected community-acquired bacteremia: a population-based cohort study

Mette Søgaard12*, Mette Nørgaard2, Lars Pedersen2, Henrik T Sørensen23 and Henrik C Schønheyder1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Clinical Microbiology, Aalborg Hospital, Aarhus University Hospital, Aalborg, Denmark

2 Department of Clinical Epidemiology, Clinical Institute, Aarhus University Hospital, Aarhus, Denmark

3 Department of Epidemiology, Boston University, Boston, MA, USA

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2011, 11:139  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-11-139

Published: 20 May 2011



Comparison of mortality among patients with positive and negative blood cultures may indicate the contribution of bacteremia to mortality. This study (1) compared mortality among patients with community-acquired bacteremia with mortality among patients with negative blood cultures and (2) determined the effects of bacteremia type and comorbidity level on mortality among patients with positive blood cultures.


This cohort study included 29,273 adults with blood cultures performed within the first 2 days following hospital admission to an internal medical ward in northern Denmark during 1995-2006. We computed product limit estimates and used Cox regression to compute adjusted mortality rate ratios (MRRs) within 0-2, 3-7, 8-30, and 31-180 days following admission for bacteremia patients compared to culture-negative patients.


Mortality in 2,648 bacteremic patients and 26,625 culture-negative patients was 4.8% vs. 2.0% 0-2 days after admission, 3.7% vs. 2.7% 3-7 days after admission, 5.6% vs. 5.1% 8-30 days after admission, and 9.7% vs. 8.7% 31-180 days after admission, corresponding to adjusted MRRs of 1.9 (95% confidence interval (CI): 1.6-2.2), 1.1 (95% CI: 0.9-1.5), 0.9 (95% CI: 0.8-1.1), and 1.0 (95% CI: 0.8-1.1), respectively. Mortality was higher among patients with Gram-positive (adjusted 0-2-day MRR 1.9, 95% CI: 1.6-2.2) and polymicrobial bacteremia (adjusted 0-2-day MRR 3.5, 95% CI: 2.2-5.5) than among patients with Gram-negative bacteremia (adjusted 0-2-day MRR 1.5, 95% CI 1.2-2.0). After the first 2 days, patients with Gram-negative bacteremia had the same risk of dying as culture-negative patients (adjusted MRR 0.8, 95% CI: 0.5-1.1). Only patients with polymicrobial bacteremia had increased mortality within 31-180 days following admission (adjusted MRR 1.3, 95% CI: 0.8-2.1) compared to culture-negative patients. The association between blood culture status and mortality did not differ substantially by level of comorbidity.


Community-acquired bacteremia was associated with an increased risk of mortality in the first week of medical ward admission. Higher mortality among patients with Gram-positive and polymicrobial bacteremia compared with patients with Gram-negative bacteremia and negative cultures emphasizes the prognostic importance of these infections.