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Blood conservation techniques are being increasingly used because of the increased cost and lack of availability of allogeneic blood. Cell salvage offers great blood savings opportunities but is thought to be contraindicated in a number of areas (e.g., blood contaminated with bacteria). Several outcome studies have suggested the safety of this technique in trauma and colorectal surgery, but many practitioners are still hesitant to apply cell salvage in the face of frank bacterial contamination. This study was undertaken to assess the efficacy of bacterial removal when cell salvage was combined with leukocyte depletion filtration.Expired packed erythrocytes were obtained and inoculated with a fixed amount of a stock bacteria (Escherichia coli American Type Culture Collections [ATCC] 25922, Pseudomonas aeruginosa ATCC 27853, Staphylococcus aureus ATCC 29213, or Bacteroides fragilis ATCC 25285) in amounts ranging from 2,000 to 4,000 colony forming units/ml. The blood was processed via a cell salvage machine. The washed blood was then filtered using a leukocyte reduction filter. The results for blood taken during each step of processing were compared using a repeated-measures design.Fifteen units of blood were contaminated with each of the stock bacteria. From the prewash sample to the postfiltration sample, 99.0%, 99.6%, 100%, and 97.6% of E. coli, S. aureus, P. aeruginosa, and B. fragilis were removed, respectively.Significant but not complete removal of contaminating bacteria was seen. An increased level of patient safety may be added to cell salvage by including a leukocyte depletion filter when salvaging blood that might be grossly contaminated with bacteria.