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Culture of Bacteria From Lumbar and Caudal Epidural Catheters Used for Postoperative Analgesia in Children
  1. James K. McNeely, M.D.*,
  2. Noreen C. Trentadue, R.N., B.S.N.,
  3. Lynn M. Rusy, M.D.* and
  4. Neil E. Farber, M.D., PhD*,,§
  1. *Departments of Anesthesiology
  2. Pharmacology
  3. §Toxicology, Medical College of Wisconsin
  4. Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Children's Hospital, The Medical Center of Georgia, Macon, Georgia
  1. Reprint requests: James K. McNeely, M.D., Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, Department of Anesthesiology, P.O. Box 1997, M.S. 735, Milwaukee, WI 53201.


Background and Objectives Continuous epidural analgesia has been used with increasing frequency to provide postoperative pain relief for children. Epidural space infection is a potential complication of epidural catheter placement. This study investigated the incidence of bacterial colonization on lumbar and caudal epidural catheter tips in postoperative pediatric patients.

Methods In this prospective study, lumbar and caudal epidural catheters were placed in the operating room with aseptic technique. Dilute local anesthetic and/or opioid infusions were used for postoperative analgesia. On discontinuation of the epidural infusion, the skin site was decontaminated with 70% alcohol and then cultured. The distal catheter tip and hub were cultured. Semiquantitative and qualitative aerobic cultures were performed.

Results Data from 91 epidural catheters were available (45 caudal versus 46 lumbar). Of the 45 caudal catheter tips 9 (20%) were colonized, compared with 2 of the 46 (4%) lumbar catheter tips (P < .02). Staphylococcus epidermidis was the predominant skin and catheter tip organism isolated in both groups. Four of nine caudal catheter tips grew gram-negative bacteria. Statistical analyses did not show that time, skin site inflammation, or dressing condition were independent predictors of catheter tip colonization. No patient developed a clinical epidural infection during the study period.

Conclusions The results of this study suggest that the risk of clinical epidural infection associated with caudal or lumbar postoperative catheters is low. However, the incidence of epidural catheter tip colonization is increased with the caudal route of insertion, and the bacteria differ from those cultured from the lumbar insertion site.

  • pediatric anesthesia
  • lumbar epidural catheters
  • caudal epidural catheters
  • epidural catheter infection

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