Occult infection in pseudarthrosis revision after spinal fusion

The Spine Journal 21 (2021) 370−376

Pseudarthrosis after attempted spinal fusion is yet not sufficiently understood and presents a surgical challenge. Occult infections are sometimes observed in patients with pseudarthrosis and no inflammatory signs of infection. The prevalence of such occult infection and its association with patient demographics and inflammatory markers are largely unknown.

PURPOSE: To determine the prevalence of unexpected low-grade infection in spinal pseudarthrosis revision surgery, and to evaluate whether such infection is associated with patient demographics and inflammatory markers.

STUDY DESIGN: Retrospective observational study.

PATIENT SAMPLE: One-hundred-and-twenty-eight patients who underwent thoracolumbar revision surgery due to presumed aseptic pseudarthrosis after spinal instrumentation.

OUTCOME MEASURES: Culture-positive infections or noninfectious pseudarthrosis. METHODS: Samples were routinely taken for microbiological examination from all adults (n=152) who underwent revision surgery for presumed aseptic thoracolumbar pseudarthrosis between 2014 and 2019. A full intraoperative microbiological workup (at least three intraoperative tissue samples) was done for 128 (84%) patients, and these patients were included in further analyses. Patient characteristics, medical history, inflammatory markers, and perioperative data were compared between those with and without microbiologically-confirmed infection based on samples obtained during pseudarthrosis revision.

RESULTS: The microbiological workup confirmed infection in 13 of 128 cases (10.2%). The predominant pathogen was Cutibacterium acnes (46.2%), followed by coagulase-negative staphylococci (38.5%). The presence of infection was associated with the body mass index (30.9§4.7 kg/m2 [infected] vs. 28.2§5.6 kg/m2 [controls], p=.049), surgery in the thoracolumbar region (46% vs. 18%, p=.019), and a slightly higher serum C-reactive protein level on admission (9.4§8.0 mg/L vs. 5.7§7.1 mg/L, p=.031). Occult infection was not associated with age, sex, prior lumbar surgeries, number of fused lumbar levels, American Society of Anesthesiologist score, Charlson Comorbidity Index, presence of diabetes mellitus, and smoking status.

CONCLUSIONS: Occult infections were found in 10% of patients undergoing pseudarthrosis revision after spinal fusion, even without preoperative clinical suspicion. Occult infection was associated with higher body mass index, fusions including the thoracolumbar junction, and slightly higher C-reactive protein levels. Intraoperative microbiological samples should be routinely obtained to exclude or identify occult infection in all revision surgeries for symptomatic pseudarthrosis of the spine, as this information can be used to guide postoperative antibiotic treatment.