Open Access Case Report

Postoperative spinal infection mimicking systemic vasculitis with titanium-spinal implants

Vasileios I Sakellariou1*, Erato Atsali2, Konstantinos Starantzis1, Chrysanthi Batistaki3, Triantafyllia Brozou2, Panayiotis Pantos1, Konstantinos Stathopoulos1 and Konstantinos Soultanis1

Author Affiliations

1 First Department of Orthopaedics, School of Medicine, University of Athens, Attikon, University General Hospital, Chaidari, Greece

2 Third Department of Paediatrics, School of Medicine, University of Athens, Attikon, University General Hospital, Chaidari, Greece

3 Second Department of Anaesthesiology, School of Medicine, University of Athens, Attikon, University General Hospital, Chaidari, Greece

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Scoliosis 2011, 6:20  doi:10.1186/1748-7161-6-20

Published: 13 September 2011

Abstract

Background

Secondary systemic vasculitis after posterior spinal fusion surgery is rare. It is usually related to over-reaction of immune-system, to genetic factors, toxicity, infection or metal allergies.

Case Description

A 14 year-old girl with a history of extended posterior spinal fusion due to idiopathic scoliosis presented to our department with diffuse erythema and nephritis (macroscopic hemuresis and proteinuria) 5 months post surgery. The surgical trauma had no signs of inflammation or infection. The blood markers ESR and CRP were increased. Skin tests were positive for nickel allergy, which is a content of titanium alloy. The patient received corticosteroids systematically (hydrocortisone 10 mg) for 6 months, leading to total recess of skin and systemic reaction. However, a palpable mass close to the surgical wound raised the suspicion of a late infection. The patient had a second surgery consisting of surgical debridement and one stage revision of posterior spinal instrumentation. Intraoperative cultures were positive to Staphylococcus aureus. Intravenous antibiotics were administered. The patient is now free of symptoms 24 months post revision surgery without any signs of recurrence of either vasculitis or infection.

Literature Review

Systemic vasculitis after spinal surgery is exceptionally rare. Causative factors are broad and sometimes controversial. In general, it is associated with allergy to metal ions. This is usually addressed with metal on metal total hip bearings. In spinal surgery, titanium implants are considered to be inert and only few reports have presented cases with systemic vasculitides. Therefore, other etiologies of immune over-reaction should always be considered, such as drug toxicity, infection, or genetic predisposition.

Purposes and Clinical Relevance

Our purpose was to highlight the difficulties during the diagnostic work-up for systemic vasculitis and management in cases of posterior spinal surgery.