Is a Drain Tip Culture Required After Spinal Surgery?

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Study Design:

The efficacy of use of a drain tip culture for early detection of surgical-site infection (SSI) was investigated in 329 patients after spinal surgery.


To examine the efficacy of a wound drain tip culture for detection of SSI in spinal surgery.

Summary of Background Data:

A complication of SSI after spinal surgery has high associated morbidity and mortality, and is often difficult to treat.

Materials and Methods:

The subjects were patients who underwent spinal surgery at our institution between January 2010 and March 2013. All subjects were treated with antimicrobial prophylaxis based on evidence-based guidelines and were followed for at least 6 months after surgery. Data from culture studies using the distal tip of the wound drain were used for analysis.


Drain tip cultures were positive in 34 cases and there were 19 SSIs. Ten of the 34-tip culture-positive wounds developed SSI. Drain tip cultures had a sensitivity of 52%, specificity of 92%, positive predictive value (PPV) of 29%, and negative predictive value of 97% for predicting a wound infection. The association between a positive suction tip culture and wound infection was significant (P<0.05). The PPV for SSI was 60% in cases in which methicillin-resistant bacteria were detected in a drain tip, and the SSI rate in these cases differed significantly compared with those with non–methicillin-resistant bacteria (P=0.01).


A drain tip culture is useful for early detection of SSI caused by methicillin-resistant bacteria.

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