Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Patient characteristics but not virulence factors discriminate between asymptomatic and symptomatic E. coli bacteriuria in the hospital

Jonas Marschall13*, Marilyn L Piccirillo1, Betsy Foxman2, Lixin Zhang2, David K Warren1, Jeffrey P Henderson1 and For the CDC Prevention Epicenters Program

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Infectious Diseases, Washington University School of Medicine, 660 S. Euclid, St. Louis 63110, MO, USA

2 School of Public Health, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

3 Department of Infectious Diseases, Bern University Hospital and University of Bern, Friedbühlstr. 51, 3010 Bern, Switzerland

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2013, 13:213  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-13-213

Published: 10 May 2013



Escherichia coli is a common cause of asymptomatic and symptomatic bacteriuria in hospitalized patients. Asymptomatic bacteriuria (ASB) is frequently treated with antibiotics without a clear indication. Our goal was to determine patient and pathogen factors suggestive of ASB.


We conducted a 12-month prospective cohort study of adult inpatients with E. coli bacteriuria seen at a tertiary care hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. Urine cultures were taken at the discretion of treating physicians. Bacterial isolates were tested for 14 putative virulence genes using high-throughput dot-blot hybridization.


The median age of the 287 study patients was 65 (19–101) years; 78% were female. Seventy percent had community-acquired bacteriuria. One-hundred ten (38.3%) patients had ASB and 177 (61.7%) had symptomatic urinary tract infection (sUTI). Asymptomatic patients were more likely than symptomatic patients to have congestive heart failure (p = 0.03), a history of myocardial infarction (p = 0.01), chronic pulmonary disease (p = 0.045), peripheral vascular disease (p = 0.04), and dementia (p = 0.03). Patients with sUTI were more likely to be neutropenic at the time of bacteriuria (p = 0.046). Chronic pulmonary disease [OR 2.1 (95% CI 1.04, 4.1)] and dementia [OR 2.4 (95% CI 1.02, 5.8)] were independent predictors for asymptomatic bacteriuria. Absence of pyuria was not predictive of ASB. None of the individual virulence genes tested were associated with ASB nor was the total number of genes.


Asymptomatic E. coli bacteriuria in hospitalized patients was frequent and more common in patients with dementia and chronic pulmonary disease. Bacterial virulence factors could not discriminate symptomatic from asymptomatic bacteriurias. Asymptomatic E. coli bacteriuria cannot be predicted by virulence screening.

Escherichia coli; Bacteriuria; Urinary tract infection; Asymptomatic; Virulence factors