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To determine the epidemiological and clinical characteristics of patients who were discharged from the emergency department (ED) and subsequently proved to have bacteremia, we prospectively assessed all patients examined in the ED during an 18-month period from whose blood cultures a significant organism was isolated. Discharged patients were contacted and reevaluated. Two case-control studies were conducted, in which each study patient was matched with a total of 4 control patients. During the study period, 46,336 patients were examined in the ED; 78% were adults and 22% were children. Blood cultures were performed for 25% of the adult patients and for 44% of the children. Although the occurrence of occult bacteremia in patients who were discharged from the ED is 3.7 times more common in children than in adults, the absolute numbers of discharged adults and children with occult bacteremia are similar. Careful clinical assessment will not prevent discharge of some of these patients; however, these patients in general do well and can be safely recalled for reevaluation and complementation of therapy.