Urinary Squamous Epithelial Cells Do Not Accurately Predict Urine Culture Contamination, but May Predict Urinalysis Performance in Predicting Bacteriuria

Research paper by Nicholas M. Mohr MD, MS, Karisa K. Harland PhD, MPH, Victoria Crabb MS, RN, Rachel Mutnick DO, David Baumgartner MD, MBA, Stephanie Spinosi ARNP, Michael Haarstad MD, Azeemuddin Ahmed MD, Marin Schweizer PhD, Brett Faine PharmD

Indexed on: 09 Mar '16Published on: 17 Feb '16Published in: Academic Emergency Medicine


The presence of squamous epithelial cells (SECs) has been advocated to identify urinary contamination despite a paucity of evidence supporting this practice. We sought to determine the value of using quantitative SECs as a predictor of urinalysis contamination.Retrospective cross‐sectional study of adults (≥18 years old) presenting to a tertiary academic medical center who had urinalysis with microscopy and urine culture performed. Patients with missing or implausible demographic data were excluded (2.5% of total sample). The primary analysis aimed to determine an SEC threshold that predicted urine culture contamination using receiver operating characteristics (ROC) curve analysis. The a priori secondary analysis explored how demographic variables (age, sex, body mass index) may modify the SEC test performance and whether SECs impacted traditional urinalysis indicators of bacteriuria.A total of 19,328 records were included. ROC curve analysis demonstrated that SEC count was a poor predictor of urine culture contamination (area under the ROC curve = 0.680, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.671 to 0.689). In secondary analysis, the positive likelihood ratio (LR+) of predicting bacteriuria via urinalysis among noncontaminated specimens was 4.98 (95% CI = 4.59 to 5.40) in the absence of SECs, but the LR+ fell to 2.35 (95% CI = 2.17 to 2.54) for samples with more than 8 SECs/low‐powered field (lpf). In an independent validation cohort, urinalysis samples with fewer than 8 SECs/lpf predicted bacteriuria better (sensitivity = 75%, specificity = 84%) than samples with more than 8 SECs/lpf (sensitivity = 86%, specificity = 70%; diagnostic odds ratio = 17.5 [14.9 to 20.7] vs. 8.7 [7.3 to 10.5]).Squamous epithelial cells are a poor predictor of urine culture contamination, but may predict poor predictive performance of traditional urinalysis measures.