Serum procalcitonin as an early marker of neonatal sepsis

  • Daynia E Ballot Department of Paediatrics, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
  • Olga Perovic Department of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, National Health Laboratory Service, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
  • Jacky Galpin Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
  • Peter A Cooper Department of Paediatrics, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg


Background. It has recently been suggested that procalcitonin (PCT) is of value in the diagnosis of neonatal sepsis, with varying results. This study was to evaluate the role of PCT as a single early marker of neonatal sepsis.

Setting. Neonatal Unit, Johannesburg Hospital, and Microbiology Laboratory, National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS), South Africa.

Subjects and methods. Neonates undergoing evaluation for sepsis between April and August 2002 were eligible for inclusion. Patients were categorised into ‘no infection', ‘possible infection' and ‘definite infection' on the basis of C-reactive protein (CRP), white cell count (WCC), platelet count and blood culture results. PCT was correlated with infection categories.

Results. One hundred and eighty-three neonates were enrolled. One hundred and eighteen had no infection, 52 possible infection and 13 definite infection. PCT differed significantly among infection categories (p < 0.0001) and correlated significantly with CRP at presentation (correlation coefficient 0.404, p < 0.001) and CRP at 24 hours (correlation coefficient 0.343, p < 0.001). PCT predicted 89.5% of definite infection. Receiver operating characteristic (ROC) analysis for PCT to predict definite infection showed odds ratio (OR) 1.145 (95% confidence interval (CI): 1.05 - 1.25) with an area under the curve of 0.778. PCT had a negative predictive value of 0.95 (95% CI: 0.915 - 0.988) for definite infection.

Conclusions. Although PCT was significantly related to the category of infection, it is not sufficiently reliable to be the sole marker of neonatal sepsis. PCT would be useful as part of a full sepsis evaluation, but is relatively expensive. A negative PCT on presentation may rule out sepsis, but this needs to be evaluated further.

S Afr Med J 2004; 94: 851-854.

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 0256-95749
print ISSN: 2078-5135