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Burns. 1996 May;22(3):173-6.

Quantitative microbiology in the management of burn patients. I. Correlation between quantitative and qualitative burn wound biopsy culture and surface alginate swab culture.

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Department of Microbiology, University College London Hospitals, UK.


The diagnosis and treatment of burn wound infection is commonly determined by clinical impression and the qualitative results of surface swabs. It has been suggested that quantitative bacteriology from burn wound biopsies confirms burn wound infection and improves patient management. Methods for quantitating surface flora have been described, but comparisons with biopsy specimens have been contradictory. The quantitative and qualitative results of 141 pairs of biopsies and surface swabs, from 74 burn patients, were compared. Staph. aureus was the commonest organism isolated (29 per cent of biopsies and 35 per cent of swabs). Recovery of the same set of species from biopsy and swab occurred in 54 per cent of pairs. There was a significant correlation between the bacterial count obtained by biopsy and by surface swab (P < 0.001), but using various threshold values, the predictive value of the counts obtained by one method to predict the counts obtained by the other was poor. Parallel cultures taken on 18 occasions, showed a significant correlation between bacterial counts obtained from two biopsies or two swabs taken simultaneously (P < 0.002), but there was wide variation in bacterial densities from the same burn wound at the same time. Recovery of the same set of species from both biopsies occurred in 56 per cent of pairs, and from both swabs in 50 per cent of pairs. The use of quantitative microbiology in burns is limited by the unreliability of a single surface swab or biopsy to represent the whole burn wound.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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