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Surgical treatment of necrotizing pancreatitis (NP) has undergone considerable changes during the past 2 decades. In this study, we report our experience of necrosectomy and continuous closed lavage over the past 19 years in an attempt to define changes in patient characteristics and outcome at an academic referral center.Among 1520 patients admitted with acute pancreatitis, 392 had NP, 285 of whom underwent operative treatment. The total series was evaluated separately for treatment period A (May 1982 until April 1993) and treatment period B (May 1993 until May 2001).Intraoperative bacteriology revealed sterile necrosis in 145 and infected necrosis in 140 patients. Preoperative disease severity did not differ between the groups; however, the extent of pancreatic parenchymal necrosis was less in patients with sterile necrosis (P < .003). Postoperative complications were more frequent in infected necrosis (78%) than in sterile necrosis (61%) (P < .004), with mortality rates of 27% and 23%, respectively. The analysis of the 2 treatment periods revealed that during period B, there was a decrease in operatively treated patients with sterile necrosis (P < .0005). The preoperative systemic disease severity was significantly higher in these patients than in patients with infected necrosis.Surgical treatment of NP by necrosectomy and closed lavage carries an overall mortality of 25%. Patients with sterile necrosis and early onset high disease severity may represent a distinct clinical entity in whom the optimal treatment strategy remains to be defined.