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J Trauma. 2006 Apr;60(4):814-9; discussion 819-20.

The role of debridement and antibiotics in gunshot wounds to the spine.

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Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, St. Louis University Health Sciences Center, MO 63110, USA.



The number of spinal cord injuries due to gunshot wounds continues to rise each year, and they currently rank third behind motor vehicle collisions and falls. Spine and wound infections pose difficult problems for transgastrointestinal gunshot wounds to the spine.


A retrospective review of 114 patients with low-velocity gunshot wounds to the spine was performed. Attention was paid to associated gastrointestinal (GI) tract injuries, antibiotic coverage, surgical intervention, and the development of spine and wound infections.


Of 114 patients with gunshot wounds to the spine, 27 (23.7%) sustained a concomitant GI tract injury and 87 (76.3%) did not. Four spine infections (4/114, 3.5%) and 23 wound infections (23/114, 20.2%) developed in our patient population. Spine infection (chi = 13.36, p < 0.001) and wound infection (chi = 12.94, p < 0.001) rates were significantly higher in transgastrointestinal gunshot wounds to the spine. Surgical treatment of the spine in patients with transgastrointestinal gunshot wounds showed a significantly higher rate of spinal infection than did nonsurgical treatment of the spine (p = 0.013, Cramer's V = 0.61). No significant difference in spine infection rate was seen with adequate versus inadequate antibiotic coverage in the trans- gastrointestinal subset (p = 1.00), or in the development of wound infections with spine surgery (p = 0.628) or varying antibiotic coverage (p = 1.00).


There is a significantly higher rate of spine and wound infections with trans-gastrointestinal gunshot wounds to the spine. These injuries, particularly those that involve the colon, put patients at risk for the development of spine infections after spinal surgery. Randomized controlled trials are necessary for the development of a specific protocol for intravenous antibiotic therapy in the setting of transgastrointestinal gunshot wounds to the spine.

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