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Aust N Z J Surg. 1997 Apr;67(4):173-6.

Open versus closed surgical treatment of abscesses: a controlled clinical trial.

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  • 1Royal Darwin Hospital, Casuarina, Northern Territory, Australia.



Conventional drainage, curettage and packing of acute superficial abscesses has been challenged and in some centres replaced by curettage and primary closure under antibiotic cover. This technique has not been used widely in Australasia or North America, probably because of the lack of reassurance from local randomized trials.


A randomized trial was conducted to compare the primary closure of acute superficial abscesses to conventional packing. Abscesses requiring drainage under a general anaesthetic were considered for the study, excluding extensive, secondary and deep suppurations. In the 'open' group, the abscess was drained, curetted, irrigated, and then packed. Instead of packing, the cavity in the 'closed' group was obliterated using interrupted vertical mattress skin sutures with/without closed suction drainage. Other aspects of management were standardized.


Of the 32 abscesses treated using the closed technique, 25 (78%) healed by primary intention after 1 week (SE(p) = 7.3%; 95% CI = 63.7-92.4%). One of the 29 abscesses (3%) treated using the open technique healed by secondary intention in a similar period of time. The difference was statistically significant (Chi-squared test with Yates' continuity correction = 31.70; P < 0.0001). There was no statistically significant difference in the overall incidence of healing, 1 month after surgery (chi 1(2) = 0.07; P > 0.9). In the closed group, healing was obtained by primary intention, leaving a linear surgical scar in 84% of the cases (SE(p) = 5.7%; 95% CI = 72.8-95.2%). Hospitalization and the need for analgesia and dressing changes were reduced by 40-60%.


Primary closure of acute superficial abscesses was associated with an improved outcome in terms of duration and quality of healing, postoperative pain, length of hospitalization, nursing care and, by implication, cost, and may be recommended as an alternative treatment that is superior to the orthodox technique.

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