BACKGROUND Among methods for preventing pneumonia and possibly also bacteremia in intensive care unit (ICU) patients, Selective Digestive Decontamination (SDD) appears most effective within randomized concurrent controlled trials (RCCT's) although more recent trials have been cluster randomized. However, of the SDD components, whether protocolized parenteral antibiotic prophylaxis (PPAP) is required, and whether the topical antibiotic actually presents a contextual hazard, remain unresolved. The objective here is to compare the bacteremia rates and patterns of isolates in SDD-RCCT's versus the broader evidence base. METHODS Bacteremia incidence proportion data were extracted from component (control and intervention) groups decanted from studies investigating antibiotic (SDD) or non-antibiotic methods of VAP prevention and summarized using random effects meta-analysis of study and group level data. A reference category of groups derived from purely observational studies without any prevention method under study provided a benchmark incidence. RESULTS Within SDD RCCTs, the mean bacteremia incidence among concurrent component groups not exposed to PPAP (27 control; 17.1%; 13.1-22.1% and 12 intervention groups; 16.2%; 9.1-27.3%) is double that of the benchmark bacteremia incidence derived from 39 benchmark groups (8.3; 6.8-10.2%) and also 20 control groups from studies of non-antibiotic methods (7.1%; 4.8 - 10.5). There is a selective increase in coagulase negative staphylococci (CNS) but not in Pseudomonas aeruginosa among bacteremia isolates within control groups of SDD-RCCT's versus benchmark groups with data available. CONCLUSIONS The topical antibiotic component of SDD presents a major contextual hazard toward bacteremia against which the PPAP component partially mitigates.