The appropriate diagnostic threshold for ventilator-associated pneumonia using quatititative cultures

Martin A. Croce, Timothy C. Fabian, Eric W. Mueller, George O. Maish, Jordy C. Cox, Tiffany K. Bee, Bradley A. Boucher, G. Christopher Wood, Michael Chang, Christine S. Cocanour, Stephen M Cohn, David A. Spain, Josee Gagnon, Preston R. Miller, Ronald M. Stewart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


Background: The use of quantitative cultures of the bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) effluent to distinguish between posttraumatic inflammatory response and ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) is becoming more common. However, the diagnostic threshold of either 104 or 105 colonies/mL remains debatable. Because mortality from VAP is related to treatment delay, some have chosen a lower diagnostic threshold (≥104 colonies/mL). This may result in unnecessary antibiotic use with its sequelae: increased resistant organisms, antibiotic-related complications, and increased costs. The purpose of this study is to determine the optimal diagnostic threshold for VAP diagnosis using quantitative cultures of the BAL effluent. Methods: Data on patients with fiberoptic bronchoseopy with BAL are maintained in a prospectively collected database at our Level I trauma center. This database was reviewed for timing and frequency of BAL and the colony counts of each organism identified. Indication for bronchoseopy was clinical evidence of VAP. VAP was defined as ≥105 colonies/mL in the BAL effluent. A false-negative BAL was defined as any patient who had <105 colonies/mL and developed VAP with the same organism up to 7 days after the previous culture. Results: Over a 46-month period, 526 patients underwent 1,372 fiberoptic bronchoscopy procedures with BAL. Of these, 72% were male patients, 91% followed blunt injury, and mean age and Injury Severity Score were 43 years and 30, respectively. Overall mortality was 14%. There were 1,898 organisms identified (42% were gram-positive and 58% were gram-negative). VAP was diagnosed in 38% of BAL. Overall, there were 43 episodes in 38 patients defined as false-negative (3%). The false-negative rate was 9% in patients with 104 organisms. The most common false-negative organisms were Pseudomonas and Acinetobacter species. Conclusion: The VAP diagnostic threshold for quantitative BAL in trauma patients should be ≥105 colonies/mL. One may consider a threshold of ≥104 colonies/mL in severely injured patients with Pseudomonas or Acinetobacter species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)931-936
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Trauma - Injury, Infection and Critical Care
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2004


  • Bronchoalveolar lavage
  • Fiberoptic bronchoscopy
  • Quantitative cultures
  • Ventilator-associated pneumonia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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