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Neurosurg Focus. 2003 Sep 15;15(3):E14.

Postoperative wound infections of the spine.

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Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Thomas Jefferson University and the Rothman Institute, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107, USA.


Postoperative spinal wound infections occur in 1 to 12% of patients. The rate of infection is related to the type and duration of the procedure, comorbidities, nutritional status, and various other risk factors. Antibiotic prophylactic therapy has been clearly shown to decrease the rate of infection dramatically after lumbar surgery. These infections typically manifest with signs and symptoms of wound swelling, erythema, and drainage. Laboratory-detected values such as the erythrocyte sedimentation rate and C-reactive protein can be elevated beyond what is normal for the uncomplicated postoperative course following lumbar surgery, and combined with the clinical symptoms should alert the physician to the possibility of infection. When detected, these infections should be managed aggressively with operative debridment and irrigation, including the deep subfascial layer in all cases except those with clearly demarcated superficial infection. The choice of one versus multiple debridments can be made based on the appearance of the wound, patient factors, and nutritional status. Hardware and incorporated bone graft can be left in place in the majority of cases, adding to stability. Outcomes following aggressive treatment of this complication can be excellent, with no long-term loss of function and complete eradication of the infection.

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