Low-grade infections are difficult to diagnose. As the presence of a chronic infection requires extensive surgical debridement and antibiotic treatment, it is important to diagnose a SII prior to surgery, especially when the hardware is revised. We investigated whether serum inflammatory markers or nuclear imaging can accurately diagnose a chronic spinal instrumentation infection (SII) prior to surgery.
All patients who underwent revision spinal surgery after a scoliosis correction between 2017 and 2019 were retrospectively evaluated. The diagnostic accuracy of serum C-reactive protein (CRP) and Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR), 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography combined with computed tomography (FDG-PET/CT) and Technetium-99m-methylene diphosphonate (99mTc-MDP) 3-phase bone scintigraphy (TPBS) to diagnose infection were studied. Patients with an acute infection or inadequate culture sampling were excluded. SII was diagnosed if ≥ 2 of the same microorganism(s) were isolated from intra-operative tissue cultures.
31 patients were included. The indication for hardware extraction was pseudoarthrosis in the majority of patients (n = 15). 22 patients (71%) were diagnosed with SII. In all infected cases, Cutibacterium acnes was isolated, including 5 cases with a polymicrobial infection. Sensitivity, specificity, PPV and NPV was: 4.5%, 100%, 100% and 30.0% for CRP >10.0 mg/L, 5.5%, 100%, 100% and 29% for ESR > 30 mm/h; 56%, 80%, 83% and 50% for FDG-PET/CT and 50%, 100%, 100% and 20% for TPBS, respectively.
The prevalence of SII in patients undergoing revision spinal surgery is high, with Cutibacterium acnes as the main pathogen. No diagnostic tests could be identified that could accurately diagnose or exclude SII prior to surgery. Future studies should aim to find more sensitive diagnostic modalities to detect low-grade inflammation.