Infection is a serious and costly complication of CSF shunt implantation. Antibiotic-impregnated shunts (AISs) were introduced almost 10 years ago, but reports on their ability to decrease the infection rate have been mixed. The authors conducted a meta-analysis assessing the extent to which AISs reduce the rate of shunt infection compared with standard shunts (SSs). They also examined cost savings to determine the degree to which AISs could decrease infection-related hospital expenses.
After conducting a comprehensive search of multiple electronic databases to identify studies that evaluated shunt type and used shunt-related infection as the primary outcome, 2 reviewers independently evaluated study quality based on preestablished criteria and extracted data. A random effects meta-analysis of eligible studies was then performed. For studies that demonstrated a positive effect with the AIS, a cost-savings analysis was conducted by calculating the number of implanted shunts needed to prevent a shunt infection, assuming an additional cost of $400 per AIS system and $50,000 to treat a shunt infection.
Thirteen prospective or retrospective controlled cohort studies provided Level III evidence, and 1 prospective randomized study provided Level II evidence. “Shunt infection” was generally uniformly defined among the studies, but the availability and detail of baseline demographic data for the control (SS) and treatment (AIS) groups within each study were variable. There were 390 infections (7.0%) in 5582 procedures in the control group and 120 infections (3.5%) in 3467 operations in the treatment group, yielding a pooled absolute risk reduction (ARR) and relative risk reduction (RRR) of 3.5% and 50%, respectively. The meta-analysis revealed the AIS to be statistically protective in all studies (risk ratio = 0.46, 95% CI 0.33–0.63) and in single-institution studies (risk ratio = 0.38, 95% CI 0.25–0.58). There was some evidence of heterogeneity when studies were analyzed together (p = 0.093), but this heterogeneity was reduced when the studies were analyzed separately as single institution versus multiinstitutional (p > 0.10 for both groups). Seven studies showed the AIS to be statistically protective against infection with an ARR and RRR ranging from 1.7% to 14.2% and 34% to 84%, respectively. The number of shunt operations requiring an AIS to prevent 1 shunt infection ranged from 7 to 59. Assuming 200 shunt cases per year, the annual savings for converting from SSs to AISs ranged from $90,000 to over $1.3 million.
While the authors recognized the inherent limitations in the quality and quantity of data available in the literature, this meta-analysis revealed a significant protective benefit with AIS systems, which translated into substantial hospital savings despite the added cost of an AIS. Using previously developed guidelines on treatment, the authors strongly encourage the use of AISs in all patients with hydrocephalus who require a shunt, particularly those at greatest risk for infection.