Empirical broad-spectrum antibiotics are routinely administered for short durations to children with suspected bacteremia while awaiting blood culture results. Our aim for this study was to estimate the proportion of broad-spectrum antibiotic use accounted for by these “rule-outs.”


The Pediatric Health Information System was used to identify children aged 3 months to 20 years hospitalized between July 2016 and June 2017 who received broad-spectrum antibiotics for suspected bacteremia. Using an electronic definition for a rule-out, we estimated the proportion of all broad-spectrum antibiotic days of therapy accounted for by this indication. Clinical and demographic characteristics, as well as antibiotic choice, are reported descriptively.


A total of 67 032 episodes of suspected bacteremia across 42 hospitals were identified. From these, 34 909 (52%) patients were classified as having received an antibiotic treatment course, and 32 123 patients (48%) underwent an antibiotic rule-out without a subsequent treatment course. Antibiotics prescribed for rule-outs accounted for 12% of all broad-spectrum antibiotic days of therapy. Third-generation cephalosporins and vancomycin were the most commonly prescribed antibiotics, and substantial hospital-level variation in vancomycin use was identified (range: 16%–58% of suspected bacteremia episodes).


Broad-spectrum intravenous antibiotic use for rule-out infections appears common across children’s hospitals, with substantial hospital-level variation in the use of vancomycin in particular. Antibiotic stewardship programs focused on intervening on antibiotics prescribed for longer durations may consider this novel opportunity to further standardize antibiotic regimens and reduce antibiotic exposure.

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