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Infants with respiratory distress syndrome are routinely evaluated for infection which commonly includes a lumbar puncture. In this study cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) examination failed to elicit evidence for meningitis in 238 consecutively admitted infants with respiratory distress syndrome evaluated during the first 24 hours of life. Blood cultures were obtained in all; suprapubic or catheterized urine was obtained in 163 infants; CSF was collected successfully in 203 infants. Seventeen infants demonstrated positive blood cultures: 7 Streptococcus, 5 Staphylococcus, 3 Haemophilus influenzae, 1 Bacillus subtilis and 1 diphtheroid infection. CSF obtained from 14 of those infants had normal examinations and sterile cultures. Factors associated with bacteremia were birth weight (P < 0.01), gestational age (P < 0.01), prolonged rupture of membranes (P < 0.05) and leukopenia below 10 000/mm3 (P < 0.05). In view of the negative CSF examinations in infants with positive blood cultures and the potential complications of lumbar puncture (hypoxia, trauma, infection, epidermoid tumor), the potential risks of CSF evaluation may exceed the assessed benefit for the infant with respiratory distress syndrome.