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Saline lavage after a “dry tap”

the differential is still useful

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In patients with a “dry” aspiration during the investigation of prosthetic joint infection (PJI), saline lavage is commonly used to obtain a sample for analysis. The aim of this study was to investigate prospectively the impact of saline lavage on synovial fluid analysis in revision arthroplasty.


Patients undergoing revision hip (THA) or knee arthroplasty (TKA) for any septic or aseptic indication were enrolled. Intraoperatively, prior to arthrotomy, the maximum amount of fluid possible was aspirated to simulate a dry tap (pre-lavage) followed by the injection with 20 ml of normal saline and re-aspiration (post-lavage). Pre- and post-lavage synovial white blood cell (WBC) count, percent polymorphonuclear cells (%PMN), and cultures were compared.


A total of 78 patients had data available for analysis; 17 underwent revision THA and 61 underwent revision TKA. A total of 16 patients met modified Musculoskeletal Infection Society (MSIS) criteria for PJI. Pre- and post-lavage %PMNs were similar in septic patients (87% vs 85%) and aseptic patients (35% vs 39%). Pre- and post-lavage synovial fluid WBC count were far more disparate in septic (53,553 vs 8,275 WBCs) and aseptic (1,103 vs 268 WBCs) cohorts. At a cutoff of 80% PMN, the post-lavage aspirate had a sensitivity of 75% and specificity of 95%. At a cutoff of 3,000 WBCs, the post-lavage aspirate had a sensitivity of 63% and specificity of 98%. As the post-lavage synovial WBC count increased, the difference between pre- and post-lavage %PMN decreased (mean difference of 5% PMN in WBC < 3,000 vs mean difference 2% PMN in WBC > 3,000, p = 0.013). Of ten positive pre-lavage fluid cultures, only six remained positive post-lavage.


While saline lavage aspiration significantly lowered the synovial WBC count, the %PMN remained similar, particularly at WBC counts of > 3,000. These findings suggest that in patients with a dry-tap, the %PMN of a saline lavage aspiration has reasonable sensitivity (75%) for the detection of PJI.

Cite this article: Bone Joint J 2020;102-B(6 Supple A):138–144.

Correspondence should be sent to Nathanael D. Heckmann. E-mail:

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