Objective: To evaluate diagnostic properties of International Classification of Diseases, Version 9 (ICD-9) diagnosis codes and infection criteria to identify bacterial infections among rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients. Study Design and Setting: We performed a cross-sectional study of RA patients with and without ICD-9 codes for bacterial infections. Sixteen bacterial infection criteria were developed. Diagnostic properties of comprehensive and restrictive sets of ICD-9 codes and the infection criteria were tested against an adjudicated review of medical records. Results: Records on 162 RA patients with and 50 without purported bacterial infections were reviewed. Positive and negative predictive values of ICD-9 codes ranged from 54%-85% and 84%-100%, respectively. Positive predictive values of the medical records based criteria were 84% and 89% for "definite" and "definite or empirically treated" infections, respectively. Positive predictive value of infection criteria increased by 50% as disease prevalence increased using ICD-9 codes to enhance infection likelihood. Conclusion: ICD-9 codes alone may misclassify bacterial infections in hospitalized RA patients. Misclassification varies with the specificity of the codes used and strength of evidence required to confirm infections. Combining ICD-9 codes with infection criteria identified infections with greatest accuracy. Novel infection criteria may limit the requirement to review medical records. © 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.