Prosthetic joint infection (PJI) presents the second most common complication of total joint arthroplasty (TJA). Accumulating evidence suggests that up to 20% of aseptic failures are low-grade PJI. However, there is still no single test to reliably diagnose all PJI. In his thesis, Mazzucco emphasized the viscosity differences between normal, osteoarthritic, and rheumatic synovial fluid. Similarly, a recent study by Fu et al. reported significantly lower viscosity in patients with PJI compared to the aseptic failure cohort. The primary aim of our study was to determine whether synovial fluid viscosity is a more reliable diagnostic criterion for PJI compared to the synovial fluid cell count with differential and serum C-reactive protein (CRP) levels.
We prospectively analyzed the viscosity of synovial fluid samples obtained during TJA of hip and knee joint revision procedures. We sampled 2.5–5 mL of synovial fluid for viscosity measurement. The samples were centrifuged (4 min at 7000 rpm) and the resulting supernatant was immediately transferred into the Ostwald viscometer. Viscosity was derived from the time required for a given volume of synovial fluid to pass the viscometer at 20 °C. The synovial fluid samples were also analysed for their cell count with differential and serum CRP was measured. The definite diagnosis of PJI was established on basis of EBJIS criteria. For the viscosity, the threshold for detecting PJI was set at 65 seconds.
Between December 2020 and March 2021, we analyzed 12 knee and 11 hip TJA revision samples. These included 14 septic and 9 aseptic synovial fluid samples. The average viscometer time in the PJI group was 31s (range 20–48s) compared to 247s (range 68–616s) in the group of aseptic revision procedures. The specificity and sensitivity of our viscosity measurements were 100%. The sensitivity and specificity of cell count was 100% and 85.7%, for the synovial fluid differential they were 100% and 85.7%, and for the CRP they were 88.9% and 71.4%, respectively.
Our study is the first to report a significant difference in synovial fluid viscosity between the PJI and the aseptic cohort. It points towards the diagnostic superiority of viscosity measurements over conventional synovial fluid cell count, synovial fluid differential, and serum CRP levels. Albeit currently limited by small sample size, the study remains ongoing.