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BACKGROUND: The GERMS Group initiated a prospective multicenter study to assess prevalence and nature of bacterial contamination of pooled buffy-coat platelet concentrates (PPCs) and apheresis platelet concentrates (APCs) by routine screening with a bacterial culture system.

STUDY DESIGN AND METHODS: In nine centers overall, 52,243 platelet (PLT) concentrates (15,198 APCs, 37,045 PPCs) were analyzed by aerobic and anaerobic cultures (BacT/ALERT, bioMérieux).

RESULTS: In 135 PLT concentrates (PCs; 0.26%), bacteria could be identified in the first culture (0.4% for APCs vs. 0.2% for PPCs; p < 0.001). In 37 (0.07%) of these PC units, the same bacteria strain could be identified in a second culture from the sample bag and/or the PC unit. The rate of confirmed-positive units did not differ significantly between APC (0.09%; 1/1169) and PPC units (0.06%; 1/1544). Bacteria from skin flora (Propionibacterium acnes, Staphylococcus epidermidis) were the most prevalent contaminants. Median times to first positive culture from start of incubation were 0.7 and 3.7 days in aerobic and anaerobic cultures for confirmed-positive units. With a “negative-to-date” issue strategy, most PC units (55%) had already been issued by time of the first positive culture.

CONCLUSION: The rate of confirmed bacterial contamination of PC units was low. Nevertheless, clinicians must be aware of this risk. The risk of bacterial contamination does not warrant universal preference of APCs. It must be questioned whether routine bacterial screening by a culture method can sufficiently prevent contaminated products from being transfused due to the delay until a positive signal in the culture system and due to false-negative results.