Pedicle Screw Fluid Sign: An Indication on Magnetic Resonance Imaging of a Deep Infection After Posterior Spinal Instrumentation

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Abstract

Study Design:

A single-center case-referent study.

Objective:

To assess whether the “pedicle screw (PS) fluid sign” on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used to diagnose deep surgical site infection (SSI) after posterior spinal instrumentation (PSI).

Summary of Background Data:

MRI is a useful tool for the early diagnosis of a deep SSI. However, the diagnosis is frequently difficult with feverish patients with clear wounds after PSI because of artifacts from the metallic implants. There are no reports on MRI findings that are specific to a deep SSI after PSI. We found that fluid collection outside the head of the PS on an axial MRI scan (PS fluid sign) strongly suggested the possibility of an abscess.

Methods:

The SSI group comprised 17 patients with a deep SSI after posterior lumbar spinal instrumentation who had undergone an MRI examination at the onset of the SSI. The non-SSI group comprised 64 patients who had undergone posterior lumbar spinal instrumentation who did not develop an SSI and had an MRI examination within 4 weeks after surgery. The frequency of a positive PS fluid sign was compared between both groups.

Results:

The PS fluid sign had a sensitivity of 88.2%, specificity of 89.1%, positive predictive value of 68.1%, and negative predictive value of 96.6%. The 2 patients with a false-negative PS fluid sign in the SSI group had an infection at the disk into which the interbody cage had been inserted. Three of the 7 patients with a false-positive PS fluid sign in the non-SSI group had a dural tear during surgery.

Conclusions:

The PS fluid sign is a valuable tool for the early diagnosis of a deep SSI. The PS fluid sign is especially useful for diagnosing a deep SSI in difficult cases, such as feverish patients without wound discharge.

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