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Preoperative Diagnosis of Infection in Patients with Nonunions
Charlton Stucken, MD1; Dana C. Olszewski, MD, MPH1; William R. Creevy, MD1; Akira M. Murakami, MD1; Paul Tornetta, III, MD1
1 Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Boston University Medical Center, 850 Harrison Avenue, Boston, MA 02118. E-mail address for P. Tornetta III: ptornetta@gmail.com
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Investigation performed at the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Boston University Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts

Disclosure: None of the authors received payments or services, either directly or indirectly (i.e., via his or her institution), from a third party in support of any aspect of this work. One or more of the authors, or his or her institution, has had a financial relationship, in the thirty-six months prior to submission of this work, with an entity in the biomedical arena that could be perceived to influence or have the potential to influence what is written in this work. No author has had any other relationships, or has engaged in any other activities, that could be perceived to influence or have the potential to influence what is written in this work. The complete Disclosures of Potential Conflicts of Interest submitted by authors are always provided with the online version of the article.

Copyright © 2013 by The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Inc.
J Bone Joint Surg Am, 2013 Aug 07;95(15):1409-1412. doi: 10.2106/JBJS.L.01034
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The surgical treatment of a fracture nonunion is complicated in the presence of infection. The purpose of the present study is to report on the utility of a standardized protocol to rule out infection in high-risk patients and to evaluate the efficacy of each component of the protocol.


A single protocol of preoperative laboratory tests (white blood-cell count, C-reactive protein level, and erythrocyte sedimentation rate) and a combined white blood cell/sulfur colloid scan were performed for patients with a high risk of fracture nonunion. Infection was diagnosed on the basis of positive intraoperative cultures, evidence of gross infection at the time of the procedure, or evidence of gross infection during the immediate postoperative period. With use of infection as the end point, univariate analysis and multiple logistic regression analysis were used to compare tests. A risk stratification method was used to combine tests.


Ninety-three patients with ninety-five nonunions were evaluated. Thirty of the ninety-five nonunions were ultimately diagnosed as being infected. With use of a combination of elevated white blood-cell count, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and C-reactive protein level and a positive scan, the predicted probabilities of infection associated with zero, one, two, and three positive tests were 18%, 24%, 50%, and 86%, respectively. With the elimination of the nuclear scan, the predicted probabilities for zero, one, two, and three risk factors were 20%, 19%, 56%, and 100%.


The erythrocyte sedimentation rate and the C-reactive protein level were both independently accurate predictors of infection. Use of a risk stratification method showed that the likelihood of infection increased with each additional positive test. A combined white blood cell/sulfur colloid scan was the least predictive method of revealing infection and is not cost effective, even as part of a stratification scheme.

Level of Evidence: 

Diagnostic Level III. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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    Accreditation Statement
    These activities have been planned and implemented in accordance with the Essential Areas and policies of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) through the joint sponsorship of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Inc. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons is accredited by the ACCME to provide continuing medical education for physicians.
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