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Introduction and Aims: To confirm whether bacteria were present in disc material harvested at the time of discectomy; and to determine whether the presence of bacteria correlated with elevation of Anti Lipid S antibody levels; and to compare these results with antibody levels and disc specimens from patients undergoing surgery for indications other than radiculitis.

We have previously demonstrated significantly elevated IgG titres (ELISA) to a glycolipid antigen found in the cell wall of most gram-positive bacteria in patients with discogenic sciatica. This raised the possibility that the inflammation associated with disc protrusion might be initiated or accelerated by bacteria.

Method: A prospective study was performed using disc material harvested with stringent aseptic precautions from 207 microdiscectomy and 27 trauma, tumor or scoliosis patients (controls). Serology was obtained for all patients.

Results: In the Microdiscectomy group 76/207 (37%) had positive cultures after seven days incubation, of which 26 (34%) had positive serology. Forty-nine patients had Propionibacteria, 11 Coagulase-negative-Staphylococci (CNS), eight Propionibacteria and CNS, four other organisms and four mixed growth.

One hundred and thirty one (63%) patients had negative cultures of whom 15% had positive serology. There was a significant difference between patients with positive serology and culture, compared with those with negative serology and culture (Fischer exact test P< 0.01). In some patients, organisms were visible on microscopy prior to culture. Two of the patients undergoing surgery for other indications had positive cultures (P.acnes) of whom one had positive serology. Of those with negative cultures, six had positive serology.

There was a significant difference between positive cultures in those with sciatica and controls (P< .001).

Conclusion: A significant proportion of patients with discogenic radiculitis have positive cultures with low-virulence Gram-positive organisms (predominantly Propionibacteria ) and in proportion, a corresponding appropriate antibody response.

These abstracts were prepared by Editorial Secretary, George Sikorski. Correspondence should be addressed to Australian Orthopaedic Association, Ground Floor, The William Bland Centre, 229 Macquarie Street, Sydney, NSW 2000, Australia.

One or more of the authors are receiving or have received material benefits or support from a commercial source.