The in vitro antimicrobial susceptibility of organisms isolated from bacteraemic versus non-bacteraemic patients was evaluated using data (1997-2001) from the Meropenem Yearly Susceptibility Test Information Collection (MYSTIC) Programme. Minimum inhibitory concentration values and susceptibility breakpoints of meropenem and other broad-spectrum antimicrobials were determined using standard methodology. Three thousand one hundred and thirty-six blood culture (BC) isolates and 17,261 non-BC isolates were obtained from 51 European MYSTIC centres. Gram-positive bacteria appeared to be more prevalent in BC isolates compared with other sources. Escherichia coli, methicillin-susceptible Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa were isolated most frequently. Antimicrobial susceptibility of isolates from bacteraemic versus non-bacteraemic patients was similar. Meropenem and imipenem were the most active agents against the majority of the Gram-positive and Gram-negative organisms. Ceftazidime, gentamicin and ciprofloxacin generally exhibited the lowest activities against the most commonly isolated organisms. Meropenem was most active against P. aeruginosa and showed the highest potency and activity against all extended-spectrum and AmpC P-lactamase producers. These results are relevant to the choice of initial, empirical therapy for patients with suspected bacteraemia. (C) 2003 Elsevier B.V. and the International Society of Chemotherapy. All rights reserved.