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The authors determined the role of Candida colonization in the development of subsequent infection in critically ill patients.DesignA 6-month prospective cohort study was given to patients admitted to the surgical and neonatal intensive care units in a 1600-bed university medical center.Patients having predetermined criteria for significant Candida colonization revealed by routine microbiologic surveillance cultures at different body sites were eligible for the study. Risk factors for Candida infection were recorded. A Candida colonization index was determined daily as the ratio of the number of distinct body sites (dbs) colonized with identical strains over the total number of dbs tested; a mean of 5.3 dbs per patient was obtained. All isolates (n = 322) sequentially recovered were characterized by genotyping using contour-clamped homogeneous electrical field gel electrophoresis that allowed strain delineation among Candida species.Twenty-nine patients met the criteria for inclusion; all were at high risk for Candida infection; 11 patients (38%) developed severe infections (8 candidemia); the remaining 18 patients were heavily colonized, but never required intravenous antifungal therapy. Among the potential risk factors for candidal infection, three discriminated the colonized from the infected patients—i.e., length of previous antibiotic therapy (p < 0.02), severity of illness assessed by APACHE II score (p < 0.01), and the intensity of Candida spp colonization (p < 0.01). By logistic regression analysis, the latter two were the independent factors that predicted subsequent candidal infection. Candida colonization always preceded infection with genotypically identical Candida spp strain. The proposed colonization indexes reached threshold values a mean of 6 days before Candida infection and demonstrated high positive predictive values (66 to 100%).The intensity of Candida colonization assessed by systematic screening helps predicting subsequent infections with identical strains in critically ill patients. Accurately identifying high-risk patients with Candida colonization offers opportunity for intervention strategies.