, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 49-56

Improved detection of blood stream pathogens by real-time PCR in severe sepsis

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Evaluation of the technical and diagnostic feasibility of commercial multiplex real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for detection of blood stream infections in a cohort of intensive care unit (ICU) patients with severe sepsis, performed in addition to conventional blood cultures.


Dual-center cohort study.


Surgical ICU of two university hospitals.

Patients and participants

One hundred eight critically ill patients fulfilling the American College of Chest Physicians/Society of Critical Care Medicine (ACCP/SCCM) severe sepsis criteria were included.



Measurements and results

PCR results obtained in 453 blood samples from 108 patients were compared with corresponding blood culture results. PCR resulted in a twofold higher positivity rate when compared with conventional blood culture (BC) testing (114 versus 58 positive samples). In 40 out of 58 PCR positive assays the results of the corresponding blood cultures were identical to microorganisms detected by PCR. In 18 samples PCR and BC yielded discrepant results. Compared with conventional blood culture the sensitivity and specificity of PCR was 0.69 and 0.81, respectively. Further evaluation of PCR results against a constructed gold standard including conventional microbiological test results from other significant patient specimen (such as bronchio-alveolar lavage fluid, urine, swabs) and additionally generated clinical and laboratory information yielded sensitivity of 0.83 and specificity of 0.93.


Our cohort study demonstrates improved pathogen detection using PCR findings in addition to conventional blood culture testing. PCR testing provides increased sensitivity of blood stream infection. Studies addressing utility including therapeutic decision-making, outcome, and cost-benefit following diagnostic application of PCR tests are needed to further assess its value in the clinical setting.

L. E. Lehmann and K-P. Hunfeld contributed equally to the work.
H. Wissing and F. Stüber conceived equally as senior authors of the study.