Currently, no consensus exists as to whether patients who develop infection of the surgical site after undergoing instrumented fusion should have their implants removed at the time of wound debridement. Instrumentation removal may eliminate a potential infection nidus, but removal may also destabilize the patient’s spine. The authors sought to summarize the existing evidence by systematically reviewing published studies that compare outcomes between patients undergoing wound washout and instrumentation removal with outcomes of patients undergoing wound washout alone. The primary objectives were to determine 1) whether instrumentation removal from an infected wound facilitates infection clearance and lowers morbidity, and 2) whether the chronicity of the underlying infection affects the decision to remove instrumentation.
PRISMA guidelines were used to review the PubMed/MEDLINE, Embase, Cochrane Library, Scopus, Web of Science, and ClinicalTrials.gov databases to identify studies that compared patients with implants removed and patients with implants retained. Outcomes of interest included mortality, rate of repeat wound washout, and loss of correction.
Fifteen articles were included. Of 878 patients examined in these studies, 292 (33%) had instrumentation removed. Patient populations were highly heterogeneous, and outcome data were limited. Available data suggested that rates of reoperation, pseudarthrosis, and death were higher in patients who underwent instrumentation removal at the time of initial washout. Three studies recommended that instrumentation be uniformly removed at the time of wound washout. Five studies favored retaining the original instrumentation. Six studies favored retention in early infections but removal in late infections.
The data on this topic remain heterogeneous and low in quality. Retention may be preferred in the setting of early infection, when the risk of underlying spine instability is still high and the risk of mature biofilm formation on the implants is low. However, late infections likely favor instrumentation removal. Higher-quality evidence from large, multicenter, prospective studies is needed to reach generalizable conclusions capable of guiding clinical practice.