Best practice blood culture procedures

How to reduce risk of needlesticks and sample contamination during blood culture sample transfer and testing

Blood cultures are one of the most important laboratory tests performed in the diagnosis of serious bloodstream infections (bacteremia or fungemia).

However, needlestick injury and sample contamination remain major issues for health care organizations and laboratories that collect and process blood culture samples.

Best practice blood culture procedures involve careful consideration of specimen collection, processing and subculture techniques.

In this article we’ve looked at blood culture collection guidelines and subculture procedures that aim to protect laboratory staff and improve patient outcomes.

Why are blood cultures important?

Without detection through blood cultures and subsequent treatment, a bloodstream infection can progress to its most severe stage — sepsis.

According to the Mayo Clinic, while most people recover from mild sepsis, the average mortality rate for septic shock is still about 40%.

Early identification of bloodstream infections through blood cultures is a key step in ensuring appropriate treatment for the patient.

Importantly, beginning effective antibiotic therapy as early as possible can have a dramatic impact on the outcome of the infection.

How to safely collect blood cultures

Diligent sample collection is a critical step in the blood culture process because poor technique can lead to contamination and/or needlestick injury.

Thousands of US healthcare workers are affected by needlesticks each year, and collection and then transferring blood samples between containers is a hazardous practice for potential sharps injuries.

It’s also been well-documented that improper collection techniques can lead to contamination of blood culture samples, which can result in the need for repeat testing, increased hospital costs, and health system inefficiencies.

Managing positive blood cultures

If the blood cultures are positive for bacterial growth, subcultures are initiated to provide further information to the clinician that will help determine the appropriate antibiotic treatment.

The subculture process is typically done by using a needle and syringe or a venting needle to transfer sample from blood culture bottles onto media plates and slides. This can pose the threat of accidental needlestick injury to the technologist at multiple stages in the procedure including:

  • before the needle is inserted into the culture bottle
  • during needle insertion into the culture bottle
  • after the needle is removed from the bottle.

With distractions and heavy workloads, accidents can easily happen. However, safer products have been developed to transfer samples from culture bottles, including needleless systems.

Having a safer subculture system that allows for needleless transfer of samples from culture bottle to plate limits the chances of needlestick injury and staff exposure to culture discharge.

ITL BioMedical manufactures a range of blood culture sampling and transfer devices for hospitals, clinics and laboratories.

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