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John R. W. Kestle, Hugh J. L. Garton, William E. Whitehead, James M. Drake, Abhaya V. Kulkarni, D. Douglas Cochrane, Cheryl Muszynski, and Marion L. Walker


Approximately 10% of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) shunt operations are associated with infection and require removal or externalization of the shunt, in-hospital treatment with antibiotic agents, and insertion of a new shunt. In a previous survey, the authors identified substantial variation in the duration of antibiotic therapy as well as the duration of hospital stay. The present multicenter pilot study was undertaken to evaluate current strategies in the treatment of shunt infection.


Patients were enrolled in the study if they had a successful treatment of a CSF shunt infection proved by culture of a CSF specimen. Details of their care and the incidence of culture-proved reinfection were recorded.

Seventy patients from 10 centers were followed up for 1 year after their CSF shunt infection. The initial management of the infection was shunt externalization in 17 patients, shunt removal and external ventricular drain insertion in 50, and antibiotic treatment alone in three. Reinfection occurred in 18 patients (26%). Twelve of the 18 reinfections were caused by the same organism and six were due to new organisms. The treatment time varied from 4 to 47 days, with a mean of 17.4 days for those who later experienced a reinfection compared with 16.2 days for those who did not. The most common organism (Staphylococcus epidermidis, 34 patients) was associated with a reinfection rate of 29% and a mean treatment time of 12.8 days for those who suffered reinfection and 12.5 days for those who did not.


Reinfection after treatment of a CSF shunt infection is alarmingly common. According to the data available, the incidence of reinfection does not appear to be related to the duration of antibiotic therapy.

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Hugh J. L. Garton, John R. W. Kestle, and James M. Drake

Object. In evaluating pediatric patients for shunt malfunction, predictive values for symptoms and signs are important in deciding which patients should undergo an imaging study, whereas determining clinical findings that correlate with a low probability of shunt failure could simplify management.

Methods. Data obtained during the recently completed Pediatric Shunt Design Trial (PSDT) were analyzed. Predictive values were calculated for symptoms and signs of shunt failure. To refine predictive capability, a shunt score based on a cluster of signs and symptoms was derived and validated using multivariate methods.

Four hundred thirty-one patient encounters after recent shunt insertions were analyzed. For encounters that took place within 5 months after shunt insertion (early encounters), predictive values for symptoms and signs included the following: nausea and vomiting (positive predictive value [PPV] 79%, likelihood ratio [LR] 10.4), irritability (PPV 78%, LR 9.8), decreased level of consciousness (LOC) (PPV 100%), erythema (PPV 100%), and bulging fontanelle (PPV 92%, LR 33.1). Between 9 months and 2 years after shunt insertion (late encounters), only loss of developmental milestones (PPV 83%, LR 36.7) and decreased LOC (PPV 100%) were strongly associated with shunt failure. However, the absence of a symptom or sign still left a 15 to 29% (early encounter group) or 9 to 13% (late encounter group) chance of shunt failure. Using the shunt score developed for early encounters, which sums from 1 to 3 points according to the specific symptoms or signs present, patients with scores of 0, 1, 2, and 3 or greater had shunt failure rates of 4%, 50%, 75%, and 100%, respectively. Using the shunt score derived from late encounters, patients with scores of 0, 1, and 2 or greater had shunt failure rates of 8%, 38%, and 100%, respectively.

Conclusions. In children, certain symptoms and signs that occur during the first several months following shunt insertion are strongly associated with shunt failure; however, the individual absence of these symptoms and signs offers the clinician only a limited ability to rule out a shunt malfunction. Combining them in a weighted scoring system improves the ability to predict shunt failure based on clinical findings.