Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Shunt infection: is there a near-miss scenario?

Thompson DN, Hartley JC, Hayward RD. Shunt infection: is there a near-miss scenario? Journal of Neurosurgery. 2007 Jan;106(1 Suppl):15-9.

OBJECT: The aim of this study was to establish whether microbiological contamination at the time of shunt insertion can be detected and used to predict the likelihood of subsequent shunt infection.

METHODS: A prospective study of pediatric patients undergoing primary shunt insertion was undertaken. Following the protocol devised for this study, three swab samples were collected from the surgical wounds during each procedure. These samples were incubated and subcultured, and the isolates were identified and stored. In patients who subsequently presented with clinical evidence of shunt infection, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) was analyzed using microscopy, tissue cultures, and sensitivity testing. The organisms isolated at the time of shunt insertion and those responsible for subsequent shunt infection were then compared. The study population consisted of 107 pediatric patients. Because one patient underwent placement of an additional contralateral shunt system, there were 108 total shunt insertions yielding 325 swab samples. Organisms were identified in cultures of 50 swab samples (15%) obtained in 40 patients (37%). In seven of these 40 patients (17.5%) a CSF infection subsequently developed. In only one patient was the infectious organism the same as that isolated from the swab specimens. In an additional six patients (8.8%) a CSF infection occurred despite the lack of growth in the cultures from intraoperative swab samples.

CONCLUSIONS: The organisms responsible for shunt infection were rarely detected in the operative wound at the time of shunt insertion, leading the authors to conclude that the vulnerable period for bacterial colonization of shunts may not be restricted to the operative procedure as is commonly believed, but may extend throughout the postoperative period of wound healing. These findings have implications not only for a better understanding of the cause of shunt infections but also for the development of strategies to prevent them.

PMID: 17233307

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