Procalcitonin and valuable clinical symptoms in the early detection of neonatal late-onset bacterial infection

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To evaluate which clinical symptoms indicate proven neonatal bacterial infection (NBI) and whether measuring procalcitonin aside from C-reactive protein and interleukin 6 improves sensitivity and specificity in diagnosis.


In a prospective observational study, clinical symptoms and procalcitonin, C-reactive protein and interleukin 6 were simultaneously determined from the 4th day of life in 170 preterm and term neonates at the first time of suspicion of NBI. Proven NBI was defined as a positive culture of otherwise sterile body fluids or radiologically verified pneumonia in combination with elevated inflammatory markers.


Fifty-eight (34%) patients were diagnosed with proven late-onset NBI. In case of proven NBI, odds ratio and 95% confidence intervals were 2.64 (1.06–6.54) for arterial hypotension, 5.16 (2.55–10.43) for feeding intolerance and 9.18 (4.10–20.59) for prolonged capillary refill. Sensitivity of combined determination of C-reactive protein (>10 mg/L) and interleukin 6 (>100 pg/mL) was 91.4%, specificity 80.4%, positive predictive value 70.7% and negative predictive value 94.7%. The additional determination of procalcitonin (>0.7 ng/mL) resulted in 98.3%, 65.2%, 58.8% and 98.6%, respectively.


Arterial hypotension, feeding intolerance and especially prolonged capillary refill indicate proven neonatal late-onset bacterial infection, even at the time of first suspicion. Additional measurement of procalcitonin does indeed improve sensitivity to nearly 100%, but is linked to a decline in specificity. Nevertheless, in the high-risk neonatal population, additional procalcitonin measurement can be recommended because all infants with NBI have to be identified.

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