Postsplenectomy bacterial sepsis may be fatal, due to defects in both cellular and humoral immune responses. The objective of this study was to assess the efficacy of peritoneal macrophage antibacterial function in the early postsplenectomy period. Murine models of splenectomy and sham operation were characterized and peritoneal macrophages were harvested 24 h to 1 wk after surgery. Cells from splenectomized animals demonstrated a nonsignificant delay in phagocytosis of Escherichia coli at 24 h with, however, significantly impaired killing of intracellular organisms at 24 h and 1 wk compared to the sham group. Paradoxically, the production of the macrophage antibacterial product superoxide anion was not impaired at either time point in the splenectomy group compared with sham-operated and control mice. Nitric oxide release was significantly lower in the splenectomized group (p = 0.006), a possible explanation for reduced bacterial killing. Mortality from bacterial peritonitis was significantly higher with concomitant splenectomy than in the sham splenectomy group at 24 h (p < 0.02). The production of TNF from macrophages was up-regulated immediately following splenectomy, a cytokine which may contribute to mortality from bacteremic shock. Local defects in macrophage antimicrobial function may contribute significantly to bacteremia and to subsequent mortality in the early postsplenectomy period.